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  • Written by Kate Christensen
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  • Written by Kate Christensen
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A Novel

Written by Kate ChristensenAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kate Christensen

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On Sale: October 12, 2011
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-0-307-80738-0
Published by : Anchor Knopf
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new york city (6) new york (5) gay (5)
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Jeremy Thrane seems to have everything. As the long-time boyfriend of the handsome (but deeply closeted) movie star Ted Masterson, he lives rent-free in a beautiful apartment on the top floor of Ted's Manhattan brownstone and has an easy job that gives him plenty of time to read books and write his novel. When an influential gossip columnist overhears Jeremy talking about Ted, Jeremy's perfect world begins to crumble: in just a few hours Ted asks him to leave. Although Ted says he needs to spend more time with his wife and daughter, Jeremy suspects another man is involved.
With little more than his books, his sprawling manuscript, and his fickle little bird Juanita, Jeremy finds that he needs to re-connect with the eccentric family whose love he has taken for granted, and determine which of his friends have his true well-being in mind. In a dizzying world of art galleries, rock clubs, trendy restaurants, casual sex, dry wit, and drier martinis, Jeremy Thrane must finally figure out what it means to grow up and fall in love.

Excerpt

PART ONE

1 - ROLLING HOME
I stood alone at the front of the boat. The deck sloped away from me, running with dew. The ferry’s prow split the water into two clean lines of white froth as it plowed its way across New York Harbor, that grand old decaying basin rucked up with centuries of tides and traffic. As the wind, smelling of brine and diesel, lifted my hair from my forehead, I felt like the klieg-lit male lead in an old MGM musical, about to burst forth in a full-throttle tenor. Straight ahead, the Twin Towers’ tops vanished into grizzled clouds. Off to the left was the Statue of Liberty, green as a garden gnome, and beyond, the improbably beautiful industrial banks of New Jersey: O brave old world, that had such smokestacks in it.

It was seven thirty-eight according to the radioactive little numbers on my wrist. I’d left Frankie splayed naked in the sheets, lying on his stomach with his shoulder blades folded together and his arms above his head, sucking a bit of pillowcase into his open mouth as he inhaled, wafting it back out again on the exhale. He hadn’t been so beautiful awake, he’d been a wiry, unprofessional, foul-mouthed waiter. He was a complete stranger to me, and I to him. He’d waited on my friend Max and me the night before in a little Italian place on Carmine Street. It had been a nice job cracking him in two and showing him what was what. He’d put up a gratifying struggle. He was a bantamweight, but he was slippery and fast. Toward dawn I’d pinned him, then let him go to sleep and lay there watching him, listening to the mice in the walls, squinting in the glare of the bulb of his closet. He’d brought me to his house, entangled his body with mine. Now he slept peacefully, having allowed me to ravish him. Was it my low-key manner? The fact that I’d put on a condom without being asked? But for all he knew, I was a mild-mannered, condom-wearing serial murderer. I wanted to shake him awake and warn him: Next time he might not be so lucky.

Instead, I got up and dressed, let myself out into the heavy, fresh morning air. The sidewalks were broad and cracked; the trees hung low overhead. I walked through a moist, spooky tunnel smelling of moss and water with a greenish light, like a dream, then hiked all the way down a long, sloping strip-mall-covered avenue to Bay Street. I must have unconsciously charted the landmarks and directions of our stumbling journey last night to Frankie’s lair; retracing it, alone and in reverse, I found the vast gray empty ferry terminal and boarded the boat waiting there.

On a bench just inside the ferry’s cavernous cabin slept a fat but frail old woman with her head wrapped in a dirty white bandage or turban, her belongings in bags under the bench. Her face was as purely beautiful in sleep as Frankie’s had been, leathery and weary, but free of the disfigurements of dementia, mood, hunger, calculation. I could smell her. She reeked from stewing in her own animal juices day after day, eating garbage, drinking rotgut. I was sure if she awoke and caught me looking at her, she’d fix me in a hostile glare, but for now she was a sleeping beauty, sad but serene.

The towers of the financial district grew slowly until they loomed ahead, a forest of silent giants bigger than redwoods, denser than cliffs. A crowd gathered at the closed gates on the deck, waiting to be let onto solid ground. I felt them all around me, mild and still half asleep, heard their soft morning breathing, gentle as cows waiting for the farmer to open the pasture gates. I’d always felt an impersonal, brusque fondness for the fellow travelers I brushed up against on my way some- where, strangers who neither got in my way nor let me get in theirs, all of us suspended together between past and future in a temporal tunnel of watery-green privacy like this morning’s sidewalks. The ship docked with a thud and a grinding of underwater gears, a creak of the gangplank.

I walked out of the huge, echoing South Ferry terminal and headed up Whitehall Street. I caught pleasurable whiffs every now and then, the funky residue of Frankie wafting on gusts of warm air from inside my clothes. After several blocks, Whitehall became Broadway. The statue of a huge bull pawed at an island in the middle of the street. I crossed over to inspect it, and without thinking, reached down to cup its testicles. Giving them a gentle squeeze, schoolboy hilarity bubbled up in my chest. As I looked uptown with the bull’s balls in my hand, the voice in my head sang “New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town; the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down—” After all these years, I could still be amazed by the cityscape on a fall morning, bronze testicles, skyscrapers, and blowing trash. The autumn air, whether cloudy or clear, had a quality that was present at no other time of year; in the fall, other New Yorks, past and future, real and imaginary, seemed to quiver just beyond the brink of the visible one. Other people’s memories haunted me on every corner, as palpable as my own skin as I passed through them. A yellow cab slid by; its funhouse-like reflection smeared the green glass skin of one building, swelling then compressing to a vanishing blip.

O brave old world. Craning my neck like a tourist, I looked up the side of a skyscraper, straight up its ramrod-sheer belly. I’d never worked in an office. Most of my knowledge of offices came from sitcoms or movies. I thought of them as places where cadres of men with gym-cut muscles under Oxford shirts engaged in homoerotic banter; I imagined corporate men’s rooms as the settings for rushed, silent, half-brutal encounters, a sullen mailroom boy collared in the hallway by an Armani-clad V.P., ordered to step into the gleaming empty room and stand against the wall with his hands splayed against the tiles. The image of the boy’s tight khakis pulled down just far enough to cup his buttocks made me dizzy.

I found with my fingertips in my pants pocket a restaurant mint from last night, a small, pillowy square I fished out and sucked on. It crumbled chalkily on my tongue. I’d heard these mints were soaked in uric acid from patrons who didn’t wash their hands after peeing, then scrabbled their fingers around the mint bowl. But urine was sterile, and anyway I’d always been clinically objective or, rather, cavalierly unconcerned about such things. You could go through life wiping every doorknob with a handkerchief and get picked off by a commonplace flu at fifty, or you could let all microbes take their best shots, thereby strengthening your resistance to them. I opted for the latter strategy, and as a backup maintained a steady level of alcohol molecules to confuse any invading bugs, in hopes that they would wander through my body’s corridors like locked-out hotel guests, too blotto to find my cells.

It dawned on me then that I was ravenous and caffeine depleted. No wonder I was dizzy. Directly ahead lay an open deli, a bright little trading post on the canyon floor. I ducked in and loitered through the aisles for a moment until a small knot of people in suits at the counter concluded their business and cleared off. I breathed in the smells of Pine Sol, stewing coffee, and hot grease, glanced idly at boxes of prunes and instant chicken noodle soup. When I stepped up to the counter and ordered my breakfast, the counterman immediately handed me a cup of coffee. One of the things I deeply treasured about this city was the fact that people behind counters moved at least three times faster here than anywhere else in the country. The farther outside of Manhattan you got, the longer you had to wait in line; someone somewhere had probably figured out an algorithmic equation to express the exact ratios.

While my breakfast sizzled on the grill, I took the lid off my sweet, milky coffee and blew on it to make one static wavelet on its creamy brown surface that subsided the instant I stopped blowing. As I replaced the lid, my eye was caught by the cover of the top copy of the National Enquirer in the rack: “Sizzling Stars Heat Up the Sunset Strip.” There were Ted and Giselle, looking smugly into each other’s eyes. Her blond hair blew against his sculpted cheek. A flash of that irrational fondness I always felt when I unexpectedly saw anything familiar in a strange place was subsumed immediately by irritated envy. I was still half asleep; it wasn’t fair of them to intrude on my solitary pleasures before I’d even had my coffee.

Giselle’s husband, Ted Masterson, had been my boyfriend for the past ten years. Or, rather, Giselle had married my boyfriend, Ted, seven years earlier, having no idea that Ted had another life tucked away in New York. For his first several years in Hollywood, his star had seemed perpetually about to rise, but, until he’d married Giselle, it had stubbornly remained a red dwarf suspended about halfway between hori- zon and zenith. In the seven years since their splashy media-orgy of a wedding, his roles and asking price had steadily improved. He needed her; I had grudgingly accepted his marriage as a sound career move, but I didn’t like it. And the few times I’d met Giselle, I hadn’t liked her either; all the things I loved about Ted—his genuine acting tal- ent, his sense of humor, his ironic cast of mind, and most notably his homosexuality—were quashed by her influence. She was a scrappy little white-trash kid who’d clawed her way up the glass mountain to land on the roof of the world. Her pre-stardom name had been Cathy Benitez, a castoff she’d abandoned along with her former self, a chubby, slitty-eyed, Valley-bred mall rat—I’d seen pictures—in favor of Giselle Fleece, white-blond movie star with upper arms as thin as stalks of celery and a practiced half-smile. They’d both married up, in a way. Her alliance with Ted, an old-money Ivy-League Connecticut WASP, gave Giselle a vicarious aura of aristocracy without eclipsing her. And as for Ted, there was no doubt about the career advantages he’d gained in exchange for his bargain with some internal devil, but I pitied him for it. His vanity was his greatest weakness. He’d given up more for its gratification than I could ever imagine sacrificing for anything, except maybe, come to think of it, Ted himself. But I hadn’t made any bargains with any devil that I could think of. I just kept my mouth shut and did as I pleased while he was out of town.

In recent years, our once incendiary, inventive sex life had buckled under the combined weight of his double life and our mutual silence, mine tactful, Ted’s withholding, on all the topics he and I had ceased over time to talk about. I had no high hopes for this weekend’s visit. Half of me was tempted to get out of town for the duration, but the other, stronger half wanted to see Ted as often as possible, even if it meant pretending to be nothing more than his old friend the whole time. But I hoped that he would find a way for us to be alone together, if only for an hour or two.

I pulled the residual aura of my night with Frankie around me like a protective cloak and looked away from the newspaper rack, but the happy mindlessness of my hung-over reverie was shattered. Was there no escape for me from those two, nowhere I could go that I wouldn’t find some reminder of their strategic public alliance? Their show went on every waking moment. Wherever they went, it seemed, the Fleece-Masterson family contrived to be caught in ostensibly casual but alarmingly flattering poses, and not only “heating up the Sunset Strip”—there seemed to be cameras awaiting them at the zoo, the gourmet grocery store, the video rental place, the fro-yo stand, Pink’s, the Four Seasons. In recent published photos taken by enterprising photographers through long-range lenses in Tuscany and Venice, they glowed from a gondola, a balcony, a vineyard, a yacht, a cap of red curls nestled between them like a lapdog. This was their daughter, on whom they’d bestowed the unlikely name of Bretagne, Bret for short, when they’d adopted her five years ago. Giselle was too busy shooting back-to-back blockbusters to take time out for pregnancy, or so their publicists maintained. I’d never met Bret, but I’d seen plenty of pictures, and in all of them she looked like a terrifyingly precocious Hollywood kid, the type of enfant terrible who’d be pregnant, or worse, by the age of twelve.
The premiere for Giselle’s new movie, to which I had been invited formally, by mail, was Monday night at eight at the Ziegfeld. Their private plane was scheduled to touch down early this evening at LaGuardia. Ted and Giselle would arrive in their limo with their entourage shortly thereafter at Ted’s Gramercy Park house, where I lived; I’d hoped not to have to see them until much later, when the photographers had gone away and Bretagne was asleep and the house was quiet.

I paid for my breakfast and left the deli, heading into a thick breeze moving without undue haste past me and on into the depths of the financial district I’d just left behind. As I walked, I wolfed from its waxed paper bed the luscious fusion of salty thin-sliced ham, hot soft scrambled egg, and chewy poppy seed roll, then balled up the paper and tossed it into an overflowing trash can without missing a step or beat of my stride. The morning was cool and hazy, the city’s edges softened and blurred by clouds boiling up from manholes, steam blowing from square aluminum-bright deli vents, the coal-black whiffets left hanging after buses pulled away. Every lungful of air I inhaled held this vaporous urban discharge from vents, grates, and engines, seething with the electric waves from millions of skulls, currents of mental activity to which my own were added along with my outward breath.
Walking through these early-morning streets, the idea of Ted’s fame, no matter how minor compared to Giselle’s, seemed almost ridiculous. How could a person project himself into such proportions all out of keeping with his common, limited, private consciousness? I recalled then a look Ted’s face took on sometimes, a maddening expression of blue-blooded entitlement, his eyes glazed over like a sated overlord’s, his mouth slack and his voice underlain with a flat, nasal Connecticut imperiousness that brooked neither interruption nor dissent. How could I love and hate someone so intensely, both at once? My loathing for parts of Ted felt like a noxious fuel, choking me while it propelled me through the summits and valleys of love, but keeping me to a narrow, strenuous track.
Kate Christensen|Author Q&A

About Kate Christensen

Kate Christensen - Jeremy Thrane

Photo © Michael Sharkey

KATE CHRISTENSEN is the author of six previous novels, most recently The AstralThe Great Man won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award. She has published reviews and essays in numerous publications, most recently the New York Times Book ReviewBookforumOElle, and Gilt Taste. She writes an occasional drinks column for The Wall Street Journal called "With a Twist." Her blog can be accessed at: http://katechristensen.wordpress.com. She lives in Portland, Maine.
 

Author Q&A

Q&A with Kate Christensen author of JEREMY THRANE

Q: What is your background?

A: I grew up in California and Arizona, and received a B.A. in English from Reed College and an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. My first novel, IN THE DRINK, was published in May, 1999 and my second, JEREMY THRANE, will be published in August 2001. I live in Brooklyn and I'm a full-time writer.

Q: Where did the idea for JEREMY THRANE come from?

A: I had decided, shortly before In The Drink came out, to write a novel about a woman who tries to rescue her younger sister from a cult. It was the book I thought I ought to write next,—serious, earnest, "literary" with a plot. By the time I had written 125 pages, I had begun to suspect that this book was as dull to read as it was to write. Still, I was determined to grit my teeth, finish the thing and hope for the best. I kept plugging away at it.
Then, one night as I was lying awake worrying about how the hell I was going to send a jolt of electricity through this moribund thing, a character came to me—from where I have no idea. It was the image of a gay man with his arms outstretched standing in a loft high above Manhattan, looking down at the lights of the city. Immediately I felt a flash of excitement and purpose, even though I had no idea who this person was or what he was doing in my mind or what his situation was or what he wanted with me. I put the other novel away and let my imagination do some groundwork for a while. Then one day in September , after In The Drink had been out for a few months and I'd calmed down enough to concentrate again, I went to my studio, turned on my computer and saw Jeremy on the Staten Island Ferry after his one-night stand with Frankie. I typed the words, "I stood alone at the front of the boat. The deck sloped away from me, running with dew." Jeremy's voice and the narrative engaged like meshing gears.

Q: How long did it take you to write JEREMY THRANE?

A: This book was the most purely intuitive thing I've ever written; I'd never written anything so quickly before. I hardly thought about it or planned it, I just let Jeremy's voice emerge, and let myself go wherever it took me. The words came as fast as I could type them. I have a hard time being analytical or objective about this book—it feels like the result of listening to my gut, letting my intuition be my guide and not allowing myself to question it too much. I showed up at my studio every day, pretty nearly seven days a week, until it was finished. I began it in September 1999 and finished the final draft on Christmas Eve, 2000.

Q: How do you identify with JEREMY THRANE, the character?

A: Obviously, I'm not a gay man. It had never occurred to me to write in the voice of a gay man. What drew me to write about Jeremy initially was that flash of recognition I had when he popped into my mind, an anonymous person, a stranger. All I knew about him was that he was gay, which now that I think about it strikes me as interesting— why that, as his only identifying quality? What really got me in that moment was a sense of his "otherness," his difference from me... My immediate curiosity about him- who was this guy, apart from being a gay man? — was the initial A-HA!! that spurred me to start fleshing him out over time, and finally to write a book from his perspective. I was curious about and intrigued by the idea of inhabiting a gay man's psyche and body for the duration of a first-person narrative, and the prospect of allowing myself the freedom to imagine a world so different from the one I live in, even though it's the same city. As it turned out, Jeremy and I have a lot in common — he sees the world much as an artist might, or a woman for that matter — as an outsider of sorts, observing and analyzing the status quo, constantly aware of his own relation to it, detached but deeply present. The challenging work was in the writing itself, the fleshing out of a character and his world, not in inhabiting a gay man's perspective. Jeremy isn't "representative of gay men" in any way for me (there's no political agenda here, in other words)— he's a solitary individual like the rest of us, someone whose sexuality is only a part of who he is — someone who isn't me, but whom I know well and have come to love.

Praise

Praise

"Christensen unveils hidden sides of New York City--and humanity--with passionate, witty prose." --Glamour

"Kate Christensen paints a convincing portrait of a sensitive, modern Manhattanite." --New York Times Book Review

"As a contemporary Pilgrim's Progress, Jeremy Thrane is satisfyingly wayward and modern . . . light, densely populated and full of good will." --Newsday

"Christensen knows how to capture singlehood in the little things, like listening, with longing and satisfied remove, to your new roommate and his lover chatting. Details like these will keep you hooked. —Mademoiselle
Kate Christensen

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  • Jeremy Thrane by Kate Christensen
  • June 11, 2002
  • Fiction - Literary; Fiction - Gay
  • Anchor
  • $13.00
  • 9780385720342

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