Issue 112, Winter 1989
Mark Fusco sold his novel when he was twenty-two. “You’re a very fortunate young man,” Bill Winterton proclaimed. They met in the editor’s office, on the sixteenth floor. The walls were lined with photographs, book jackets, and caricatures. “You should be pleased with yourself.”
He was. He had moved from apprentice to author with scarcely a hitch in his stride. It was 1970, and crucial to be young. One of the caricatures showed Hawthorne on a polo pony, meeting Henry James; their mallets were quill pens. They were swinging with controlled abandon at the letter A.
Bill Winterton took him to lunch. They ate at L’Armorique. The editor discoursed on luck; the luck of the draw, he maintained, comes to those who read their cards. He returned the first bottle of wine, a Pouilly Fume. The sommelier deferred, but the second bottle also tasted faintly of garlic; the sommelier disagreed. They had words. “There’s someone cooking near your glassware,” Winterton declared. “Or you’ve got your glasses drying near the garlic pan.”
He was proved correct, llie maltre d’hotel apologized and congratulated him on his discerning nose. The meal was on the restaurant; they were grateful for Winterton’s help. This pleased him appreciably; he preened. He spoke about the care and nurturing of talent, the ability to locate and preserve it. Attention to detail and standards—these were the tools of his trade. This was the be-all and end-all, the alpha and omega of publishing, he said.
Mark began his book in his junior year in college, in a writing class. His father was from Florence and told tales about the family—the Baron P.P. who thought he had swallowed a sofa, the passion for clocks his aunt indulged obsessively, the apartment in Catania where they sent the younger sons. Of these characters he made his story, fashioning a treasure hunt: the grandmother from Agrigento whom the northern cousins spurned, the legacy she failed to leave but set her children hunting. He borrowed his father’s inflections; his ear was good, eye accurate, and the book had pace. He completed a draft in six months. Then the work of revision began.
Bill Winterton was forty-five and given to hyperbole. He had been a black belt in karate in Korea; he had known Tallulah Bankhead well, and Blossom Dearie; he had heard Sam Beckett discourse on Joyce. He drank and lived in Rhinecliff and was working on a novel of his own. Mark’s book was slated to appear the second Sunday of July. “That’s the first-novelist season,” Winterton informed him. “Coming out time for the debs. We want to get attention while the big boys are off at the beach. Not to worry ... ” He flourished his spoon.
Mark worked that summer on his second novel in Wellfleet, at a bicycle rental garage by the harbor; he also served ice cream. He spent long hours clamming at low tide. He liked the brief defined conviviality of work, the casual commerce with strangers. He rented the upstairs apartment of what had been a captain’s house. “Everybody was in whaling,” said his landlady, Mrs. Newcombe. “All the men in Wellfleet.” Her house had a large widow’s walk, and furniture and ornaments from the China trade.
He was sleeping with the daughter of a real estate agent in town. Bonnie returned from her sophomore year at Simmons to find the local boys inadequate; they whistled and hooted at tourists, and lounged on the Town Office steps. They made peace signs and shouted “Flower Power!” and wore ponytails. They went drag racing on the sand and passed out drinking beer. She was small and blonde and sweetly submissive and had hazel eyes. Her father would kill her, she said.
Mark had read that writers lived along the ponds. He saw them on Main Street, buying papers or fish, wearing beards. He watched them strolling on the dock, wearing caps at jaunty angles, smoking pipes. He heard them at The Lighthouse, conversing over coffee, and at the public library, where they donated books. He told himself he too would be a man with a mission, apart.
His room had a view of the dock. He had a double bed with a board beneath the mattress and brass bars painted white; he had a chest of drawers and a rolltop desk beneath the window. He organized the pigeonholes, the stacks of twenty-weight paper, the marmalade jar full of pens. The paraphernalia of habit codified, that summer, into ritual observance. He made himself strong coffee on a hotplate; he bought a blue tin cup. He played solitaire. This permitted him, he felt, to stay at his desk without restlessness; it engaged his hands but not his attention. He could sit for hours, dealing cards.