Silver and gold
I lived in New York City for a decade in my twenties and early thirties. There, I discovered the value of relationships.
Who you knew, and what people thought of you, was a difference-maker. Your career, your living arrangement, and your romantic life were all impacted by the quality of your personal network. Relationships in the city are a prized possession, as the old saying goes, worth more than silver and gold.
When writing about New York, it makes sense to explore the complexity of relationships. It’s the subject of my debut novel Marble on a Table, which is being released on March 12th, 2020.
Seen, heard and imagined
Like many transplanted New Yorkers, I never imagined I would leave the city. Being a New Yorker becomes a passion. It was only to pursue writing, a greater passion, that I eventually moved away from the big city. It was far too expensive to maintain a life there and write seriously.
Working in New York is an experience like no other. It’s rewarding and fun, but it takes everything out of you. To capture the city life I knew in a book, I would have to leave that life, ironically.
Marble on a Table is a novel inspired by a decade of New York life.
Marble on a Table is a novel inspired by a decade of New York life. It goes without saying that a writer leans on personal experience. One caveat in my case, the novel isn’t my own life put into a book. It’s almost as if a novelist is a reporter using things seen, heard, and imagined to unfold a story that never happened, but hopefully says something true.
Unique and unforgettable
Living ten years in one place gives you a solid feel for it. Landing in New York City at twenty-one, I had no idea the lasting impressions the city would make. One lesson that an ex-New Yorker never forgets is the need to achieve.
Manhattan wants your best. Too many people live in one area and they all work toward the same things. For example, your job could be done by a thousand others as qualified as you are. Your apartment would rent for more than what you pay if they evicted you. The fashionable allure of the city causes romantic partners to imagine being with someone else. It’s a tough town, and it’s part of what makes living there unique and unforgettable.
In my novel Marble on a Table, the main character Rasmus is unemployed and out of favor with his personal network. He struggles to maintain his standing in a city that is constantly changing. Finding another job should be easy enough for an ambitious city person, but Rasmus is dealing with the bruises from a hard-charging New York life. It’s causing him to question the New York way.
One source for a novel is the books the writer has read. One book helped to start me off, a novella by Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus.
Philip Roth had a knack for writing about New York-area relationships. His romantic engagements are like the city itself: dynamic, contentious, and unexpectedly tender. Goodbye, Columbus was Roth’s first published work. It’s the most innocent and soft-spoken of his books and lacks the biting wit that became a mainstay of his later novels.
The story is about a summer romance between Neil and Brenda, two opposites who have an ill-advised relationship. Their romance ends abruptly as Brenda realizes they are too different. It’s a bittersweet story of young love thwarted.
Coming into your own
Goodbye, Columbus is told from Neil’s perspective. We see how uncertain he is at a young age. He’s a blank slate in some ways, idealistic but unsure. Brenda is self-assured. Coming from a wealthy family, Brenda has a sense of herself and how life goes.
Neil begins to discover his own meaning by observing Brenda. Partly he learns from her strengths, but also from her weaknesses. Neil idolizes Brenda, but he sees she isn’t everything she believes herself to be. Neil learns that even successful, lovable people can have defects.
Goodbye, Columbus is a story of dizzying infatuation and hard truths. Underdeveloped as a person, Neil learns that love offers no guarantee. Neither Neil nor Brenda are perfect in their interactions. Both have things to work on. The reader can imagine, their summer romance will be an iconic time in their lives moving forward.
I was intrigued by Philip Roth’s difficult romance. I had an idea of my own that would use some of the same elements. Rasmus, the narrator of my novel, would meet a woman who is ahead of him in life. Alli tries to help Rasmus, to bring him up out of his struggle.
Only, Alli herself has issues she doesn’t recognize. Rasmus finds himself encouraging his rescuer to avoid the city’s pitfalls he knows all too well. Rasmus sees the cost of helping Alli will be greater than he expected. Will Rasmus choose the New York way and shrewdly protect himself and his interests, or will he take a noble path that satisfies his conscience but ruins his chance at happiness?
A great city
I firmly believe everyone wants to live a moral life. Whether residing in a small town, or in New York City, people have a code they follow instinctively. They don’t want to break it. Yet, life isn’t so cut and dried. What we believe when everything goes wrong, and what we do about it is telling. Our actions reveal a part of us, not as a mark on our character perhaps, but as an answer that we gain about ourselves, and about the world, to take forward.
You’ll be inspired by New York whether you like it or not.
Marble on a Table: A Novel relates experiences that could only happen in New York. Every character is pushed past a point that feels safe. As the protagonist Rasmus discovers, you’ll be inspired by New York whether you like it or not.
This post first appeared at The Writing Thing Press.