Your Novel Approach

by Peter Cherches

            Dear Tess (or whatever it is you call yourself these days),

            It is as if everything happened so many years ago, so long ago that calendars would long since have become clocks locked in hock shops like so many cocks in shock, tenderness prickly, pricks sickly and radio irreplaceable by talkies, television and torture, as tumescent tango singers told all or nothing. Yet your recipe for stew was a novel one, and your novels unpublishable, in this or any other country. Isn't that true? Where are we?

            Your recipe for stew, yes, I knew I'd bring that up, and your novels too, but first the stew.  It was not the making of the stew that intrigued me, but that hitherto unmentionable ritual, the naming of the stew, an age-old question, after whom do you name a stew? But first the making of the stew and your novel approach. Take a steak, allow time to do the work, i.e. putrefaction, maggots and the ravages of tender loving care and when it seems appropriate to call it so, call it stew. Hence your novel approach, unpublishable until the industry comes of age, the naming of the stew and the making of the stew are of a piece. It still baffles me how those Vikings at Penguin and those penguins at Viking could turn down your novel of life in the fast lane, No Stew on My Shoe. Your pre-fabricated reminiscences of after-hours visits to shoe stores, both independent and chain, of kinky sex in stew pots, of the pros (too numerous to recount in my humble precis) and cons (mostly economic) of using cocaine as a genital desensitizer, seemed tailor-made for the ravenous appetites of the nouveau literate, yet no house could provide a home for your minor masterpiece. Injustice, I say.

            Your face, your grace, the charms of you, not to mention the most perfect buttocks this side of the Renaissance, all these I fell for, but most of all it was your novel approach, and your knowledge of arcane positions unlisted even in the Vatican edition of the Kama Sutra. The one called "the stew pot" was my favorite, but "literary lunch" ran a close second, with "brown oxford" pulling up from behind. And you still found the time to approach your novel from a different angle each and every morning, rain or shine, like a mailman, like a milkman, and every inch a woman, to boot, or not to boot, as you said to me, half joking, half mocking, "Quick, lick my shoes while they're still in the box."

            The first time we kissed you chewed my tongue thoroughly, having read somewhere, having picked up the wrong book at the right time, that this was the proper thing to do. I cannot say I found it wholly unpleasant—that is, the act itself was pleasurable, but the aftermath cause for regret. The things I said afterwards, and the way I said them are unforgivable, but certainly forgettable, don't you remember?

           Consorting with The Great Unknown, as you liked to call yourself, was my pleasure, my sport, my meat and potatoes, the stew pot in which I willingly swam, as you stirred up feelings in me I had forgotten I was capable of, like mild disgust, intermittent insecurity, quasi-narcissistic self loathing, onanistic allegiances to the more humorless factions of the left wing, and last, but certainly not least, True Love, or at the very least a reasonable facsimile thereof. I'm talkin' about you and me, Toots.

            Your recipe for Everlasting Happiness (or was it Happiness Everlasting?) was exquisite.  Time, putrefaction, maggots, crushed tomatoes, these all figured in your equation, but it was that extra something, that secret ingredient you refuse to disclose that really made the difference. To this very day I retain vague memories of Happiness Everlasting (or was it Eternal?).

            I had promised to love, honor and obey until death, putrefaction, maggots, boredom or whim, and I have no regrets, for I worshipped you and your laser-printed manuscripts. Your talent made me hard, and in a certain sense I remain that way. But this is neither the time nor place for recriminations. Could you meet me next Sunday at 6 PM at Sammy Wong's House of Greasy Gelatinous Chinese-American Unmentionables on West 47th Street, a long-time favorite of Broadway producers and arcade operators?

            I know, I know, you had warned me that life with a genius would be difficult, but I reveled in the difficulties, difficulty held for me a certain fascination and you held me, or a certain part of me, in the palm of your hand. To attempt to satisfy your insatiable cravings was incompatible with full-time employment, so we lived like paupers. But I was happy because I felt like a collaborator. When you dedicated your unpublished novels to my cock and your unpublished cookbooks to my tongue (or was it the other way around?), I was pleased. Words cannot express how pleased I was, as the following poem illustrates:

                 When April, with its sweet and sour pork

                 Avenges cruelty with a humble sneeze

                 Then do the wretched henchmen of New York

                 Confound their simple sophistry with cheese.

            True, my art cannot compare with yours, but since you threw me out like an idea whose time has come once too often to hold even the slightest vestige of interest, my poetry has been published in the following journals:

            Hog Breeder's Monthly

            Progressive Grocer

            The New Yorker

            B.J. Review (the literary magazine of Bob Jones University, in which I published a poem titled "I Was Born Again a Thousand Times"), and in the anthology Fifty Poets Under Sixty, while everything you've ever written remains unpublished.

            Still, I constantly think of your work.  I am especially fond of your fourth novel, A New Life For Stu, which you wrote in an attempt to break into the Young Adult market. As I know you are subject to intermittent fits of temporary amnesia, I will recount the plot. 

            Stu is a short order cook at a diner called The Stew Pot. When Stu is not frying eggs or slinging hash, he prepares the stew, and the first half of the novel is basically an in-depth examination of the process of stew preparation. Every morning the owner of The Stew Pot, a Greek named Tantalus, supplies Stu with hundreds of pounds of steak bearing the USDA grade of unconscionable. It is Stu's job to cut up the steak into many small pieces, thereby exposing much more surface area and hastening the putrefaction process. Eventually Stu falls ill from having eaten too many scraps of the raw, rancid meat while on the job. On his deathbed Stu repents and converts to Hinduism. He dies and comes back to Earth as a pony, and the rest of the book deals with his adventures with an emotionally disturbed boy named Mickey. I always suspected that the story was a metaphor for your working methods.

            I am also fond of your seventeenth cookbook, 101 Stews on a Shoestring, although I'm not sure whether your suggestion that the stews should literally be served on a shoestring was wholly in earnest.

            What I'm trying to say is, I miss you.  I am nothing without you, and that's something, isn't it? Can't we put the past behind us, the future ahead of us and just live for today, for the moment, for the here and now? Without you there is nothing but putrefaction and maggots, but with you there is hope, which springs eternal, or is it eternally? I'm giving you ten years to reconsider. Until then, I remain

                                                                                     Your Humble Servant,