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  • Eve in the City
  • Written by Thomas Rayfiel
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307415172
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Eve in the City

A Novel

Written by Thomas RayfielAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Thomas Rayfiel

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List Price: $2.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 304 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41517-2
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

“They say the city never sleeps. It does. Just before dawn you can hear it snore. Light hangs in the air, directionless, not yet pressed into rays. The smell of a hidden sea soaks through stone. The streets themselves have that booming emptiness of a shell held to the ear. Everyone is dreaming. It’s when I began to wander, that time in between.”

For Eve, newly arrived from a religious colony in the heartland, the sidewalks of New York aren’t conveyors of humanity, they are sacred symbols, holy places. In the early morning, when her shift as an after-hours barmaid ends, she roams the deserted neighborhoods. It is a pilgrimage of sorts. Like so many before her, Eve has come to Manhattan to find herself among the lights and noise and sea of anonymous faces that make up the city.

One night, her nocturnal meanderings lead her to a scene that will set her life on an unexpected course. She sees two people pressed against each other in the shadows of a building. Is it a mugging? A rape? Or is this what love looks like when viewed from the outside? Eve's gaze locks into that of the struggling woman. There is a moment of connection, of silent communication, and then she is gone, the sound of her footsteps swallowed by the city, leaving behind a man . . . bleeding on the pavement.

As Eve attempts to understand what she actually saw, she becomes involved with an up-and-coming artist who draws her to him even as his actions push her away; she meets a peculiar, father-like detective who pressures her to talk about a crime she now thinks may not have even happened; and she contemplates a marriage proposal that will give her a lot more than a last name. Everyone seems to want something from Eve; now if only she can figure out what, exactly, she has within her to give.

With Eve In The City, Thomas Rayfiel has written a love letter to New York, from empty dawn streets to the glitter of Bloomingdale’s to the galleries of SoHo. Here is a smart, often dark-humored novel of a young woman’s search for self.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Chapter One

They say the city never sleeps. It does. Just before dawn you can hear it snore. Light hangs in the air, directionless, not yet pressed into rays. The smell of a hidden sea soaks through stone. The streets themselves have that booming emptiness of a shell held to the ear. Everyone is dreaming. It’s when I began to wander, that time in between. I had been in New York a year, and even though I worked until five, five in the morning, still I couldn’t close my eyes. I had the urgent sense something was happening, something important, the very reason I had come here in the first place. I felt there was a secret structure to the city, a true form, and if I gave myself up to it, became one with the seeming chaos, then I could master it and, I don’t know, attain magical powers, become who I was destined to be. I was seventeen.

“Eve is looking for God.”

“Actually, I’m fleeing the Devil.”

“It is the same thing, yes? Takes you to the same place.”

I stumbled but kept walking. That couldn’t be right, could it? But like everything Viktor said, it made a kind of twisted sense.

“Get in the car, Eve,” Brandy yawned.

“No cars in the Bible.”

Then was the way to God through the Devil? To head right at him? At Him?

“If you were wiolated,” Viktor called, “I would feel personally responsible.”

“If I was wiolated, you probably would be personally responsible,” I muttered.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

He acted as if it was one of the big benefits of the job, that you got a ride home. Door-to-door service, he called it. But if she wasn’t careful, whoever he dropped off last got more like door-to-bed service. Besides, I had brought my sneakers. I wanted to walk. I wanted to be alone. After seven hours at the bar, I felt like an ashtray.

“You know, honey, it really isn’t safe,” Nora said.

She was nice, older, maybe thirty, with dark maroon hair and this throaty smoker’s voice. She sat up front. Brandy and Crystal were in back. Viktor kept rolling alongside me. I knew all I had to do was turn, go on a one-way street, and he wouldn’t be able to follow. But I didn’t want to be rude. He was my boss.

“I’ll be OK. I promise. I like to walk.”

“Let her go, Viktor.” Brandy was getting mad.

He stopped, and I obediently stopped, too.

“Why?” he asked. “Why do you like to walk?”

I shrugged. It was nothing I’d ever considered.

“I guess because I like to think.”

Brandy and Crystal cracked up. They were both drunk. I never drank at the bar. That’s how I made my money. When a customer bought me a drink, I got water and pretended it was vodka. That came out to more than my tips, most nights.

“She likes to think,” Brandy gasped.

I was red. Even Nora was smiling at me in a kind of pitying way. Crystal couldn’t stop giggling.

“Shut up,” Viktor said.

They did. We always did what he said, when he spoke in a certain way.

“I’m sorry.” Why are you apologizing? another part of me asked. “It’s just that—”

And then he took off. It was so typical. He had to leave me standing there, breathing the taste of his burnt rubber. What he couldn’t take was anyone walking away, turning their back on him. It wasn’t about me personally, I realized, which was certainly a relief. I watched the car get smaller and smaller and felt this Wait welling up in the pit of my stomach. Wait for me! I loved the way we would all slide against each other when he turned, how he accelerated so fast you were pinned to your seat and the whole evening, all the bad smells and ugly looks, got blown out the window, got left behind.

But it only lasted a minute, that feeling of wanting to belong.

Later, I don’t remember how long after, I stood in the middle of Madison Avenue. With no traffic, the signals revealed their pattern: red, green, yellow, red again, rippling down out of Harlem. In a store window, male mannequins modeled suits. They had no hands. Cuffs sprouted, perfect tubes, around each absent wrist. A trick of reflection placed me among them. If you asked, I would have said I had no destination, that I was only obeying the lights, that I was as subject to forces as the sheet of newspaper blown across my path. I had nothing to do, nowhere to go. The green finally reached me and I began to walk.

At Seventy-third Street a couple was making love. Her feet were off the ground, clamped to the waist of a struggling, bare-buttocked man. His side was this S that kept clenching and unclenching, trying to straighten itself out. I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. I was mesmerized. My feet were glued. Here was something that was such a crucial part of life, and I had never actually seen it. I mean, never from the outside. Why wasn’t that allowed? Maybe because if this was what love really looked like I was going to join a convent. She let out a cry. Or maybe he did. It was punishment. They were urging each other on. I couldn’t tell who was obeying whose will, or if they were both in the grip of a power bigger than either one of them. And then something changed.

Is she getting raped? I asked.

Because now that I thought about it, that’s exactly what it looked like. I did this flip, this mental maneuver, and in the same exact scene I had just been watching, one thing became another, all because of what was going on in my head. The way her hands were frantically pushing, how her feet, which just moments before I thought were trying to stay up, now seemed to be fighting to get away. What should I do? Should I scream? That’s what she had been doing. But screaming . . . why? Anyway, she wasn’t screaming anymore. Whatever it was, was finished. They slowed, then stopped. In silent agreement, he let her down. I must have made a sound, a cough, or scraped my shoe against the pavement, because she turned. I glimpsed a face packed tight with anxiety—a bud, cut open—then white legs in black stockings. Her heels echoed in on themselves. She was walking away. She was gone. Like she had never been.

And I was still here. Alone. With him.

“I’m sorry,” I called. “Was it my fault?”

He didn’t answer. He was propped against the wall, pants still down around his ankles, penis pulling him stiffly to one side, like a dowser’s divining rod or a bad shopping cart.

“I didn’t know what to do,” I went on. “Stop, or keep going.”

He made a noise, halfway between a sigh and a moan, then fell.

I walked to the curb, staggered once, adjusting to the new height, then kneeled. The lights threw conflicting shadows. The streetlamp, high overhead, outlined regular features, straight nose, square jaw, while the don’t walk sign, lower down, made a mess of his stomach, a muddy shape that was still in flux, still forming. I reached to steady myself, and part of it came off on my hand, hot.

“Oh,” I said stupidly, seeing now, planted deep down in his belly, not a penis after all, but instead, wagging in crude imitation, the rubber-coated grip of a hunting knife.

“Oh my God,” I corrected, as the pool of blood moved toward my shoes.

The city spun. I was running, but it felt more like my feet were busy staying on top of things while the ground jerked this way and that, changed directions and height, tried to throw me off. I had to find a place with lights, not signs or signals but the warm glow of cloth lampshades, of thick candles. Someplace where humans might be. There were no all-night stores, just locked buildings with doormen sleeping inside. I finally found a Korean fruit stand and after babbling incoherently got them to tell me where a police station was. By the time I got there I was exhausted and panting, my mad dash turned to a crawl. I pulled open the heavy metal door, squeezed in, and plodded to a high desk where a man in a uniform sat reading a newspaper.

“Yes?” he asked, without looking up.

I opened my mouth, then shut it.

“Are you here to report a crime?” he asked.

A crime. What just happened? It didn’t go with words. It came from another part of my brain.

“If you’re here to report a crime, you have to see a detective. But there’s none available right now. I can give you a form to fill out and a detective will call you later.”

“I saw something.”

He closed the newspaper.

“You’re a witness?”

“Yes,” I decided. “I’m a witness.”

I opened my mouth again, then asked, What did I see? It wasn’t so clear. What I’d seen. It also wasn’t so clear what I should do about it.

“Miss?” the policeman asked.

What actually happened?

I heard myself saying, Yes, I saw a robbery. Two people struggling. And then someone getting stabbed. Of course. That’s what it was. A robbery. I was making it up now, lying my way to a new, better truth. A cleaned-up version. And then I ran away. Yes. It all made sense. I didn’t say anything about what couldn’t be, what I had actually seen. While he wrote things down and talked to someone on the phone, I glanced at my hand. I had been frantically clawing it against my side, so the stain, if there had ever been one, was gone. There was just skin, rubbed raw.


From the Hardcover edition.
Author Q&A

Author Q&A

A CONVERSATION WITH THOMAS RAYFIEL

Dan Chaon is the author of the novel You Remind Me of Me and two short-story collections, Fitting Ends and Among the Missing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. A native of Nebraska, Chaon currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife and two sons. He is at work on a new novel.

Dan Chaon: How do you envision the relationship between
the novels Colony Girl and Eve in the City? Are they, ideally, to
be read as a “series”? Are they two totally separate novels that
happen to feature the same main character? If they could be
packaged together in a boxed set, would you want that? Will
there possibly be other Eve novels in the future?
Tom Rayfiel: Colony Girl was meant as a single novel to stand
by itself. I was always aware of the possibility, though, that Eve
might reassert herself, but in a different locale. The book ends,
after all, with her heading toward New York City, and many
people asked me what I thought would happen to her there.
Nevertheless, I was resistant. For a long time I was stuck, didn’t
write anything. It was, I’m almost ashamed to say, the events of
9/11 that got me off my ass, awakened my love for this city
with such a ferocity that I was determined to do my best to
capture its uniqueness, pay homage to it, in response to those
who were bent on its destruction. But almost as soon as I began
Eve in the City I realized, with a sinking feeling, that a
third and final Eve story was inevitable. Why? Because I hate
sequels but love trilogies. That’s what I’m working on now.

DC:
Here’s a Jonathan Franzen quote from a 2001 New York
Times Book Review
of Colson Whitehead: “Although it’s
technically impressive and theoretically laudable when a male
novelist succeeds in inhabiting a female persona, something
about the actual practice makes me uneasy. Is the heroine doing
double duty as the novelist’s fantasy sex object? Is the
writer trying to colonize fictional territory that rightfully belongs
to women? Or does the young literato, lacking the perks
of power and feeling generally smallened by the culture, perhaps
believe himself to be, at some deep level, not male at all?
I confess to being unappetized by all three possibilities. . . .”
What do you think of that? (I’m obviously playing devil’s
advocate with you here a bit, since I don’t totally agree with
any of Franzen’s premises, but I’d like to hear what you have
to say.) And I’m interested in your own process, since I too
write from the female point of view quite a bit. To what extent
is writing from a woman’s perspective a kind of method
acting—a complex literary equivalent of drag? To what extent
is it a version of yourself you’re exploring (“Madame Bovary,
c’est moi,” as Flaubert says?). Are there any special difficulties
or sensitivities that you are aware of as you write? Do you consult
with your wife or female friends about issues of “accuracy”?
Do you believe women think and react in radically
different ways than men do?
TR: Wow! That’s quite a quote from Franzen. I’ll let Marron,
one of the characters in the book, answer: “I don’t believe
there’s any difference between male and female. I mean,
they’re useful distinctions, for bathrooms in restaurants and
stuff like that. But they’re artificial. They’re imposed on us by
society. Really we’re this complex mixture of both.” That, it
seems to me, with all the problems it presents, is still a more
fruitful approach than to regard the opposite sex as some fundamentally
unknowable “other” only capable of being depicted
from without. Look at the sister in Franzen’s book The
Corrections.
Because he’s unwilling to step into her skin, he
basically relegates her to the crudest functions of “male” fiction:
sex and cooking. Yes, it’s lesbian sex, and yes, the cooking
is in the world of haute cuisine, but that’s just tarting
up old clichés. My understanding is basically this: Inside every
straight middle-aged man is a sixteen-year-old girl struggling
to get out. (My female side just happened to emerge in a book
and not on Vesey Street at four A.M.) By concentrating on the
aspects of my personality that society deems “feminine,” I
was able to discern a pattern, and finally a character, a voice,
that was myself and yet not myself. As for special difficulties
or sensitivities, yes, I do show my work to my wife and other
women and ask, “Is my slip is showing?” I don’t always take
their advice, though. There are as many different women as
there are people. All that said, I know what Franzen means. Eve was a great way to escape the hackneyed concerns of what a man setting
out to write is often faced with, that barren, overgrazed field.
For me, she was like a scraper, peeling the paint off flaking
surfaces, getting down to something more structural and
load-bearing. The wood. The wall.

DC: Eve seems so very real and natural that at times it’s hard
to remember that there’s an author behind the book, creating
her. I wondered how much of the plot and structure was in
your mind when you began to work on the novel? Did you
write with a general outline already conceived, or did you find
yourself dreaming the story, following Eve in your imagination
as she went along? Were there any scenes or character decisions
that appeared as you went along that took you by
surprise as you were writing?
TR: I don’t plan ahead. I start with words, sentences that suggest
other sentences, and then it accretes, like a coral reef, I
sometimes think. I did have the voice of Eve, insistent but disembodied,
and that Vision, of seeing a couple I thought were
making love, but it was really something else. Then one thing
led to another. Was I surprised by any scenes or character decisions?
All of them, I hope, to varying degrees. If I, the first
reader, am not surprised, how can I expect all the readers who
follow to be surprised? (On a more prosaic level, yes, I plan
ahead a ton, mostly to assuage the nervous hysteria of not
knowing where I’m going, what I’m going to write tomorrow.
But in the act of composition it always comes out different.
Otherwise . . . I wouldn’t be writing, I’d be coloring in one of
those paint-by-numbers pictures.)

DC: You begin the novel with a device that immediately creates
suspense: Eve witnessing a possible rape/murder—and at
first many readers will think that the book is going to be a
kind of thriller. But you spend much of the novel undercutting
that idea—the “thriller” element keeps unraveling, becoming
more dream-like and elusive, even though the mystery is
“solved” at the end. Could you talk a little about this and how
the “detective” element functioned as you were working on
the novel?
TR: Mystery seemed an appropriate form, since the story
deals with adolescence. Looking back on that time in your
life, doesn’t it “read” like a detective novel? We enter a world
of clues and signs, peopled by compelling and sometimes repulsive
characters, and we crave answers, resolution, a reassuringly
finite explanation for a place that seems awash in
uncertainty, unknowability. A lot of novels use this device but
then drop it as the story goes on. I feel that violates some kind
of compact with the reader. It offends my sense of craft. Mystery
should have a solution, in art if not in life, and that solution
should tell us something about ourselves, make the adventure
of having lived through it worth our time.

DC: So much of Eve in the City seems to be focused on the
idea of “searching”—the quest for a sense of identity, understanding
our place in the world, our “true selves” as well as
the parts of ourselves that we sell, commodify, prostitute. At
one point your performance artist Marron says, “I think there
are forces that sweep you along. That bring you together . . .
Invisible powers.” What are the forces that you believe are important
in shaping a person’s life?
TR: I believe we’re swept along by forces, but I don’t pretend
to know what they are. Chance. Fate. Destiny. How can a member
of a subset have any notion of the whole? I don’t think our
brains can fit around such a concept. If they could, we wouldn’t
be who we are. I think Eve finds by the end that the key is to
try to discern, dimly, what those forces are and ride them, not
just give up and be swept along.

DC: In contrast to the suspense elements, another part of the
plot of this novel centers around complicated, unlikely poten-
tial romantic entanglements: Viktor, Horace, Detective Jourdain,
and, to an extent at the end, even the mysterious Mr. Van
Arsdale. Did you entertain the possibility that Eve might end up
with one of these guys, or was it out of the question for you?
TR: In Colony Girl, Eve left home, but not a house. She left a
cult. In Eve in the City, Eve marries, but not a guy. Yes, all
these potential suitors come her way, but at the end, she marries
the city itself. That’s why she goes out of her apartment,
in her wedding dress, with snow falling like rice at a reception,
and remembers the words she said when she opened the present
at her bridal shower, the words she is supposed to say on
her wedding night: “It’s just not what I expected.” How has
she reached such a point? By discovering who she is, by deciding
to make herself over figuratively (getting a job, moving out
of that strange attic room, hanging up on the Devil in the form
of Van Arsdale) and literally (dyeing her hair, proclaiming herself
a Flaming Redhead). All these men want to make her into
something else: a muse, a daughter, a wife. Rejecting those
roles turns out to be the act that enables her to define herself.

DC: The idea of “marrying a city” is an interesting one. It
makes me wonder about your own personal relationship to
the geography of Eve in the City, the arc that leads from Iowa
to New York.
TR: I’m strongly affected by place. I grew up in the suburbs
ringing New York City (my first book, Split-Levels, takes place
there), and went to college in Grinnell, Iowa. Place, to me, is
like the metrical scheme of a poem. It has a huge say in the socalled
content of any work. So yes, while the gender may not
be autobiographical, the geography is. That’s another reason
why Eve in the City has so many mystery elements in it. Anyone
who has walked the city at night, seen the almost mathematical,
interlocking puzzle pieces of which it is composed,
comes away with the sense of conspiracy, of hidden connectedness,
that Eve, a newcomer, responds to so strongly.

DC: Is there still such a thing as “regionalism” in the age of
the Internet and satellite TV?
TR: In this day of dumbed-down mass media, I value those
who attempt it, but can’t imagine it being much of a force. As
soon as anything regional gets appreciated it’s co-opted and
mainstreamed out of all recognition.

DC: But Eve is somewhat of an anomaly in this day and age,
isn’t she? In his New York Times review, Richard Eder says,
“Rayfiel has tried to conceive how the city might register on
the imagination of a juicily budding young woman brought
up on Mars or, in this case, on a fundamentalist commune.” I
think it’s funny that he compares fundamentalists to Martians,
and I admired the fact that you didn’t condescend to
Eve’s religious upbringing. In fact, I thought you wrote beautifully
and movingly about Eve’s complicated sense of God in
both books. I wondered if you were raised within a religious
tradition? Would you consider yourself a religious or spiritually
oriented person now?
TR: I don’t think I have a religious bone in my body. I don’t
say that boastingly or regretfully. It’s just a fact. Perhaps that’s
why religion appeals to me as a subject, because I have distance
from it and I’m curious about what a large part it plays
in so many people’s lives. I have no axe to grind, no position to
attack or defend. It was also an exciting challenge. The real
stretch for me was assuming the voice of a Tertiary Baptist
(the nonexistent sect Eve was raised in.) But no one asked me
about that. They all wanted to know how I dealt with bras
and periods and stuff like that.

DC: Did you ever hear from readers who had a strong fundamentalist
bent?
TR: No. I don’t think this kind of book makes it onto their
radar. I’d be curious to know what they think, though.

DC: Eve interacts a great deal with the New York art world. Is
that autobiographical? Do you know a lot of artists?
TR: I know some, but I used art because Eve is so perplexed
by this Vision, what she saw, and tries so hard to make sense
of it, that the best world in which to work out this problem
seemed to be that of the visual arts. Horace and Marron, for
all their eccentricities, are serious makers, addressing concerns
about reality and representation that are crucial to Eve’s
progress as a person. Yes, they use her, but she learns from
them, from the hurt they inflict, and finally uses what she
learns to move on.

DC: Speaking of reality and representation, the novel draws a
lot of intensity from your use of point of view, the use of “unreliable
narration”—is that the word you would use? As Detective
Jourdain tells her, “Between what you see and what you
think you see, there’s this space. More than anyone else I’ve
known.” I found myself fascinated by the many ways you
made use of that “space” in Eve’s perception, the way it can be
played for humor and pathos, the way it underpins the dreamlike
mood and music of the prose but is also intrinsic to the
twists and surprises of the plot in the end. Why do you think
you’re drawn to this particular technique? What does it do for
you as a writer, and what effect are you hoping that it will have
on a reader?
TR: I don’t believe in unreliable narrators. Or rather, I believe
every narration is unreliable. Eve sees what she sees, thinks
what she thinks, when she sees and thinks it. Don’t you, Dan,
don’t we all, see crazy things that a moment later we decide
weren’t there, that we cancel out or paper over because we
can’t really handle the bizarreness of our brains? Don’t you
sometimes think strange and terrible thoughts? I do. Then I
pull back and dismiss them. We all perform this mental maneuver
hundreds of times a day, in order to maintain appearances.
Well, Eve was brought up in such a stark spiritual
landscape that she hasn’t learned to do that, yet. She calls it
exactly as she sees it and, I would contend, by striving to stay
close to her true vision of what’s going on gives a more “accurate”
picture of the world than an ordinary, plausible depiction
of what we’ve all tacitly agreed is out there.

DC: I’m greatly looking forward to the next book. Any hints
about what the future might look like for Eve?
TR: When we next meet Eve, she’s sitting in a playground,
taking care of her seven-month-old daughter. But Eve’s take
on motherhood is, needless to say, all her own.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Praise

Praise

“Splendid . . . moments of acute, astonished delight . . . Rayfiel has a grittily haunting feel for New York.”
The New York Times

“Rayfiel's atmospheric, day-is-night story reads like a primal...fairy tale with a contemporary twist.”
Elle

“Rayfiel’s prose is no less beautiful for the way it nearly ruptures with the pressure of adolescent sex and revelation–it has the harsh, urgent beauty of a great pop tunee emerging in a four-track demo.”
–JONATHAN LETHEM, author of The Fortress of Solitude

“[A] likable heroine whom readers will want to follow."
Booklist



From the Trade Paperback edition.

  • Eve in the City by Thomas Rayfiel
  • December 18, 2007
  • Fiction
  • Ballantine Books
  • $2.99
  • 9780307415172

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