From the author of Edwin Mullhouse and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler: three dazzling novellas about the many shapes of love.
"Revenge" is a tour de force about erotic love and betrayal, told through the voice of a woman showing her home to a stranger with a disturbing secret. As the once-happy wife moves from living room to bedroom, she insinuates herself into her guest's (and the reader's) mind--and we witness the gradual unfolding of a carefully meditated scheme of revenge.
"An Adventure of Don Juan" and the title novella transform classic fables into immediate, wholly original tales of romance. The first puts the famous lover on a country estate in England, where he attempts to perpetrate a brilliant seduction only to discover something surprising about the human heart. In the mesmerizing "The King in the Tree," Millhauser explores devotion and denial, casting the tragedy of Tristan and Ysolt as an engrossing tale of a king's infatuation with his beautiful wife--and the agony of her betrayal with his own nephew.
Full of passion, trysting, and fatal pleasures, these three brilliant novellas are rich with the many gifts of our most persistently imaginative romancer.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
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July 12, 2004
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Excerpt from The King in the Tree by Steven Millhauser
This is the hall. It isn't much of a one, but it does the job. Boots here, umbrellas there. I hate those awful houses, don't you, where the door opens right into the living room. Don't you? It's like being introduced to some man at a party who right away throws his arm around your shoulders. No, give me a little distance, thank you, a little formality. I'm all for the slow buildup, the gradual introduction. Of course you have to imagine it without the bookcase. There isn't a room in the house without a bookcase.
May I take your coat? Oh, I like it. It's perfect. And light as a feather. Wherever did you find it? It's so hard to know what to wear this time of year, warm one day cold the next. I worry about my jonquils. They came out last week and then wouldn't you know it: snow. Luckily it didn't stick. It's a miracle they didn't die. I'll just hang it right here, next to mine. It must look very empty to you, all those hangers side by side. Those are my late husband's hats. Funny. One day I cleared out all the coats, all the shoes and galoshes--it just seemed pointless. But I left the hats. I couldn't touch the hats.
This used to be my favorite room. Listen to me! Used to be. But that's the way it is, you know. I don't have a favorite room anymore. Still, I spend most of my time here. Where else would I go? I'm so glad you like it. One thing we always agreed on, my husband and I, was furniture: it had to be comfortable. As Robert put it, no matter how new it was, it had to look sat in. And of course the piano--what's a living room without a piano, I'd like to know. Not that I ever touched it. No, I gave up piano at twelve. Don't know why, really. It's the sort of thing you later think you regret, without really regretting it. But Robert, now. He quit lessons at fifteen but kept on practicing. He never did like to give anything up.
It's a warm room too. When we bought the place it was a little drafty in winter, but first we insulated and then we replaced those drafty old windows that Robert had to put up every fall. Triple-track: it made a difference, let me tell you. When you close the curtains, in cold weather, it's just as if you're sealing yourself in. I'd sit on the couch with my feet tucked under, reading, while Robert sat in the chair there, by the bookcase, reading and marking passages. Or we'd talk--you know, thoughts drifting up, turning into words, like, I don't know, like a way of breathing. Sometimes he made a fire in the fireplace--excellent draft. I meant to tell you I had the chimney cleaned only last month. Was that ever a job. You wouldn't believe what was in there. I almost fell over when I saw the bill. But hey, can you blame the poor guy? Anyway. When the fire was going, I'd move to that end of the couch, to be near it. I could feel the heat all along my right side. Sometimes Robert would go over to the piano, if the mood struck him. He never played for anyone except me. This wasn't exactly as romantic as it sounds. He called himself an amateur--harsh word for Robert--said he refused to destroy beautiful things in public. Robert never liked to make mistakes. It upset him. He played for me because he knew I wouldn't mind an occasional wrong note. Or you could say he played for himself and allowed me to overhear him. But I loved to hear him play, especially his Chopin nocturnes. He was crazy about Chopin, said he was the greatest composer--not ever, but of piano music. Second was Mozart. He'd play those Mozart sonatas over and over--every single one of them. Do you know what he'd do?