When the lustful but impotent professor-novelist Lee Youngdahl encounters the beautiful Mariolena Sunwall, a student in his writing class, he learns of a novel she's eager to have published and decides he can help her land a book contract with one of New York's most prestigious publishing house. But he has his own agenda and some extracurricular activities in mind. Working for Mariolena gives him the inspiration he needs to break out of his paralyzing writer's block, but that's not all he's hoping to recover from. While his wife Beth is away visiting their children on a seven-city tour, Youngdahl is determined to find a cure for his impotence and revisit his old Don Juan days.
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December 01, 1999
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Excerpt from Lying in Bed by Mark Harris
FROM: Ms. Mariolena Sunwall; student; Tempe, Arizona.
Dear Dr. Youngdahl:
I want to thank you so much for the glorious lunch at Monti's La Casa Vieja and for giving me Mr. Klang's address. I have awarded this some thought and I think I will send him my manuscript as soon as I am back from the ski lodge. Until you put the idea into my head I could not picture myself as being the kind of writer who sends something to an agent in crass New York, but I will follow your advice anyhow, because it comes from you. I hope to think of an appropriate title soon, and perhaps at the same time I will arrive at a final decision on how to spell my name. Not that anyone is going to print it. (Please forgive me for the phrase "final decision." I recognize its redundance. I know I should not offend you who so relentlessly wars against redundance.)
I look forward to further comments you will be making on my manuscript. I recently learned that the abbreviation for "manuscript" is "ms.," which I consider prophetic because those are my own initials. I had thought "ms." referred only to the form of address for a woman, and to the magazine of that name.
I was relieved that you did not find my manuscript objectionable, and I was reassured to hear you say you did not in any way interpret the subject matter therein as autobiographical; understanding that that is not my life at all but the lives of characters I have invented: pure fiction out of the whole cloth. I understand now why authors like to print up in front of their books, "All the characters herein are purely fictional and any resemblance to real or living persons is purely coincidental."
I am hoping my parents will look on the matter in the same way, recognizing, as you do, the processes of fictional invention. However, that is a great deal to ask of people who have never given one moment's thought to the processes of anything except making money, fattening beef, grinding down children, and campaigning against the teaching of Darwinism in the schools of Arizona.
I suppose I should have known your attitude would be liberal and understanding. I know you don't like us to use superlatives, but you are the most sophisticated man I have ever met. As you can guess, most of the men I meet are boys. I feel so stupid about the wine in the restaurant, and I laugh with utmost admiration for your cosmopolitan wit when I remember your saying, "We should have ordered white wine with a white tablecloth." You amazed me. You never for a single instant looked at the wine; you just stood the glass up and placed a napkin over the scarlet pool and never took your eyes from mine. You are truly sophisticated. It was the nicest thing that has happened to me in a long time. You have told us time and again never to use the expression, "I have no words to express ..." because a writer should find the words to express whatever thoughts she wishes to express. Nevertheless, with many apologies for my error I must say, "I have no words to express my thrill of our luncheon."