I was the kind of thirty year old who had only recently left adolescence behind. I was mostly a modern dancer. I rehearsed, I went to class. I worked the concession stand in an art-movie theater where actors and filmmakers ushered.

A novelist with strong powers of concentration manned the ticket booth. I had a studio apartment in Gramercy Park that looked out on an ivied brick wall. When I wanted to get out of the city I would take the bus to visit my mother in central Jersey. My mother was far along into her second marriage.

She and her husband had built a house in an abandoned peach orchard with the proceeds from the sale of my childhood home and his antique-car-supply boutique. They acted as their own general contractors and saved a lot of money. Now that the house was finished they had their collective eye open for an investment scheme.

Like the ticket taker, the man my mother married was really a novelist. My mother created an author's den for him in the upper portion of their …