In The Player, the Hollywood classic that was adapted into the celebrated movie by Robert Altman, film executive Griffin Mill got away with murder. Now Mill is back, down to his last $6 million, and broke. His second wife wants to leave him. His first wife still loves him. His children hate him, and believing that the end of the world is happening, he wants to save them all, with one last desperate plan to save his life: quit the studio and convince an almost billionaire that he has the road map and the mettle to make them both achieve savage wealth. In The Return of the Player , Tolkin again delivers a brilliant, incise portrait of power, wealth, and family in contemporary society gone out of control with greed and excess.
|Edition description:||First Trade Paper Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)|
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THE RETURN OF THE PLAYER
By Michael Tolkin
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
Griffin Mill was broke, he was down to his last six million
dollars. No one knew he was ruined-not Lisa, his wife;
not June, his first wife; not even his lawyer-but the
$3 million in investments that he made in the late 1990s (on the
advice of his business manager, convinced of a permanent new
economy charged by an expansion of wealth made possible by technology),
having reached $22 million in February of 2001, were now
barely doubled; and what might have been $25 million-if the
Studio's stock had once again reached $80, and he could have
exercised his option for a half-million shares at $30 was now
gone forever, because the parent company had made a stupid merger,
box office was down, it would never return, and the stock hadn't
seen better than $17 in five years. He owed June and their two children,
Ethan and Jessa, $300,000 a year out of his salary of
$1.5 million before taxes, but since his income after taxes was barely
$750,000 a year, that left him only $450,000 to spend after
the alimony. He paid two mortgages. If he sold his house with Lisa
he might clear a million, but where would they go? The distress
of his situation made him impotent, and he was allergic to Viagra.
It was Griffin's impotence and depression that had sent Lisa
to a divorce lawyer, who asked herto secretly make copies of
Griffin's financial statements. Griffin, who loved his second wife
and believed in the strength of their marriage much as he once
believed in the value of Global Crossing (high of $61, low of zero),
had never established a way of hiding his assets, and his prenuptial
agreement with Lisa was generous, so it was a shock to her when
the lawyer wrote some numbers on a paper and showed her how
she could not afford a divorce, since her share of the stock would
be less than $5 million, which, invested at what the lawyer suggested
should be a conservative 3 percent, would generate about $150,000
a year. She might win more stock after a lawsuit, but even with
$300,000 before taxes, she would bump around in coach, collect
her own bags, and never again enjoy Christmas in Maui in a suite
that cost $1,000 a day. The lawyer advised her to stay with Griffin
until he beat her.
"Do you think he will?" she asked.
"Shit happens," said the lawyer, an expression of resignation so
infinitely repulsive to Lisa that in the rebound from the meeting she
located some pity for her husband, who in secret carried his financial
ruin at the cost of his cock.
The lawyer's suggestion that she return to work was ridiculous.
She had been a bad actress, her talent limited by her reflective
intelligence and by a murmur, just next to her conscience, of her
mother's last words, before she had died of lymphoma five years
ago, written in her impersonally elegant cursive on hospital stationery,
expressing dismay that her bright and gracious daughter would
follow a path so pebbled with crushed vanity. Lisa was thirty-seven; she was
old. Griffin was fifty-two; he was old.
After the meeting Lisa went to pick up her daughter, Willa, from
Children's Lincoln, the school founded in 1940 by Hollywood Communists
sympathetic to the Lincoln Brigade, who set their mission
statement on a bronze plaque at the entrance.
During the Spanish Civil War, 1936-19397 two
thousand eight hundred American volunteers
took up arms to defend the Spanish Republic
against the fascists and joined the Abraham Lincoln
Brigade. The "Lincolns" came from all walks
of life and included students, seamen, lumberjacks,
and teachers. They established the first
racially integrated military unit in United States
Children's Lincoln is dedicated to honoring
their selfless example. It is the school's mandate
to raise up children from all backgrounds
who will, with dignity and respect, succeed
where the Lincoln Brigade failed, for lack of
comrades, and fight bravely in the advancing
long struggle against Nazism and Fascism.
Well, things change and in 1992, without ceremony, the
plaque showed up on the wall behind the manual skills shelf of the
library, and though everyone in town now referred to the school as
Children's Mercedes, almost everyone wanted in. The Children's Lincoln
original motto, CHILDREN OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
became WHERE ROOTS TAKE WINGS, as common among
West Side private elementary schools as SHE GOT THE HOUSE
in a yacht basin. Tuition at Children's Lincoln cost $19,000 a year.
None of the school's fathers were lumberjacks, although a few
dressed the part.
Lisa usually sent the housekeeper to pick up Willa, because
Griffin's two children with June Mercator were also, as friends of
the school say, in the Lincoln Community, but instead of graduating
directly to middle and then upper school at Coldwater Academy,
Griffin's first choice for him, Ethan was now in the eighth grade of
a public school program for something called gifted children at the
Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City, along with the children
of gardeners, auto-body repairmen, public defenders, and the children
of the people the public defenders defended. Jessa, though, was
still in Children's Lincoln, a year behind Willa, and June almost always
met her at school, and Lisa didn't like being in the line of cars
with her, and there she was, two cars ahead. She saw June look at her
in the rearview mirror, and nodded.
Willa, from his second marriage, was twelve years old, seven
months older than Jessa, the second child of his first marriage.
Though he still lived with June the year of Willa's birth, the marriage
had already decayed, and it was felt by everybody in town that it
was June who betrayed Griffin by getting pregnant when she knew his
affair with Lisa was serious. He was still married to June when he bought
a house three blocks away and moved in with Lisa.
And their daughter, Jessa, was still in Children's Lincoln. He
had made no promises to June that Jessa would also go to public
school. Griffin surprised June by not calling his lawyer to threaten
institutionalization for her if she persisted in trying to send Ethan
to public school. She expected from Griffin the legal version of a pig
screaming to death, but impersonating guilt, he respected her social
agony and knew or guessed that she felt naked and covered in bed
sores in any room with the wives she held as friends in the years of
her marriage, because they had all known the truth about his affair
and kept it from her.
Forced by custom to carry the burden of decorum, submitting
to the rules, June saw her life twisted by inexplicable geometries
while she saw Lisa, at worst, circle Griffin's needs whorishly
as he moved forward in the world. Other than the second wife's
required public demonstration of restrained benevolence and good
manners (Sherman, this time sparing Atlanta), whenever the two
women faced each other-say, Griffin and Lisa dropping Jessa
and Ethan at June's after a custody weekend, and Lisa is in the car
with Griffin and June comes out to the street because she has to
remind Griffin of some mundane obligation to the kids, and she's
wearing Griffin's old sweatpants and Lisa is dressed for something
that looks like fun with other adults-June might have burned with
the question, What cost does Lisa pay? if she didn't have the one
grand consoling ugly answer: Her rival's only child was a little bit
stupid. No fear that the spawn of Lisa's sin would humiliate Ethan
and Jessa by taking not only their father but also an Ivy League
degree and a smooth ride for the duration. Children's Lincoln would
never have accepted such a dull girl without the pull of connection,
because Willa was darling but slow and-well, actually, not
so darling. Annoying. Willa annoyed the world. Slow shifting eyes
and a crinkle of disgust around her perfect little nose made folks
happy to hate her. Other kids avoided her, and without the Children's
Lincoln's rule that every child in the class must invite every
other child in the class to every birthday party, none of them would
have given her three seconds out of school. Behind her face, the
only part of her body or spirit remotely enviable about her, Willa's
tongue knocked against her palate, and when she spoke quickly, in
one of her frequent rages, the words died in her mouth like a gasping
fish slapping the wet floor of a canoe.
June knew that Lisa did not love her own daughter, and
worse-or better-June knew that Lisa preferred Jessa, in part
because a cruel God had impressed Jessa's face with his opinion of
the father and his crimes, dredging from Griffin's genetic history the
loutish mug of a drunk peasant in the corner of a Brueghel, eyes forced
nickel-thin by freckled porky cheeks. What an awful deity, to give
the stupid one the look of intelligence, and the brilliant one the look
of low brainpower, capable of nothing more than dung-hill feral greed.
In the mirror, each saw the face the other deserved.
Jessa Mill was a strange child. With a fraudulent amiability,
she accepted Lisa's fussy affections, because if she rejected Lisa her
father would blame June. Her favorite phrase in the universe was
"Instant Messenger." She wanted to start a band called The Instant
Messengers of Death. From the murderous current of the age,
she attracted drifting thoughts of assassination.
June did not know this about her, but neither did Lisa. No one
knew much about her.
About Ethan, June knew that Ethan hated Lisa only from loyalty
to his own mother, and she told him not to say how much he
hated the weekends when he left his mother alone while he and Jessa
stayed at their father's hated house.
And Griffin, always difficult to read, probably knew all of this
better than she did and had traded Ethan for Jessa, since he needed
at least one child in the school to use as a tool for his ambitions in
Hollywood. Griffin was on the board of Children's Lincoln, where
an active role in the parent community served as another front in the
battle to stay alive in Hollywood. As chairman of the school's annual
fund-raising dinner, he had license to call every parent in the
school and ask for donations to the two auctions, silent and public.
They answered his call with scripts signed by the full casts of a dozen
television shows, bottles of important wine, weekends at a spa in Ojai,
all-access passes to concerts, the free use of a private jet anywhere in
the country, baskets of chocolates, toys, clothes, musical instruments,
records, and a catered dinner cooked by three private chefs. He even
told June that he took this active role in his elementary school's fundraising
to put his children at the top of Coldwater's acceptance list
and also to add a social pretext for work. When the acceptance letter
from Coldwater arrived, a thick packet of medical forms and
appeals for donations, Griffin told her it felt like a film inhaling a
hundred million dollars on the first weekend of release, and then said,
"Look, this helps with the other stuff too," meaning it was imposing
and sexy and helped purge the scandal that was now as old as his
It shocked June that everyone accepted every new social arrangement
so long as two of the three adults in any rearrangement consented
and one of them was powerful or rich, but she tried hard not
to let rage become indignation. There wouldn't be those biblical
admonitions to defend the widow and the orphan if God hadn't seen
The bell rings in the alley, and the children are called outside.
June wants to resist Griffin's gloomy expectations of a collapsed
world, but the parents she knows are worn out from the
burden of children, and she believes that the death of purpose, the
death of the family as a unit of physical survival in a nature that
yields food only by the work of a group, is the omen of global death,
because the parents feel the uselessness of their efforts. No matter
how much they tried, the children were awful, even the sweetest.
They graduated from high school with the strength of a potato chip,
fried and fragile. The narrow desperate ambition for their children
to get into Brown and Stanford was proof to June that Griffin was
right: The panic about the saving power of a degree from the Ivy
League was the canary in the mine shaft, the best evidence of the
human species' deep sensitivity to impending extinction. The parents
in other countries who raise their children for suicide martyrdom
express the same alert recognition. Better for a child to die
immediately in the name of a cause than waste away slowly in a
world without safe water. Blowing yourself up on a bus on Ben
Yehuda Street is an early acceptance to Princeton.
* * *
What the divorce lawyer told Lisa made her want to throw up,
not so much because of her husband's financial statements as for the
waste of those years in her life when she might have done something
smarter than act, when she might have become a healer like her friend
Elixa, or a lawyer or a reporter or a social worker or an astronaut or
a civil engineer or anything but a bad actress. She wasn't stupid, as
her mother's ghost reminded her too often, and she might yet give
her life a meaning she could look back on with satisfaction when she
was old, but ... but. But what? She thought, I have failed my husband.
He left his wife for me, he sacrificed two children for me, he suffers
for his new family, and in what way have I given him the consideration
a man deserves? In what way have I given up something of myself to
him, given the father of my child, whatever my bad thoughts about
her, a gift of the pain of my own sacrifice, even the sacrifice of my
pride, burnt on the altar of conceit, my disdain for the Hollywood
that rejected me, the Hollywood that was personal when it said It's
not personal-in what way can I help bring his focus back to his difficult
work, give the man the pleasure he needs? What does he need, another
woman or, finally, my ass?
And here comes Willa.
"Hello Wills, get in. Tell me about your day."
Willa opened the back door, and by the sullen refusal to talk
and the disgusted vehemence with which she threw her heavy backpack
to the seat Lisa saw the coming tantrum like a squall line beyond
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Willa buckled herself in and said, "They hay me."
"They hate you," said Lisa, with emphasis on the t, stupidly trying
to correct and, instead, affirming.
"Maaaaaameeee. I cahn helh myself. Thass why they hay me.
Thass why they may funna me."
No, Lisa wanted to say, they don't may funna ooh, they just
don't like you, and it has nothing to do with the way you talk because
you only flub your words when you don't get your own way.
Speech therapy didn't help because Willa liked her power; there's
one of her in every class, the spoiled bilingual brat, her two languages
English and Baby. In time she might drop the pre-K act to protect
her marginal place in the group, but the inner baby of this type never
really grows up. Lisa worried for her daughter's future, especially
without a father rich enough to save her from starvation in the world,
because she was of that tribe in Hollywood who either rise to the
top, with their tantrums excused for their genius, or last about five
years before everyone gets sick of them and they're fired and disappear.
Lisa worried that her daughter was nothing more than a pigeon.
You never see old pigeons.
She watched Jessa Mill get into June's car. She wished she knew
more about June.
* * *
She doesn't know that June goes to Goth clubs, sometimes alone,
sometimes with her hairdresser, and doesn't tell anyone from real life.
She's forty-two and not so old for the clubs, but the wives of Windsor
Square were never Goth, even when they were young, and she keeps
her industrial music collection a secret from them. It's too complicated,
she tells herself, to let them see this part of her. She likes the
feeling of being a superhero, playing the role of June Mercator Mill
as her alter ego. That's how she feels about her trips to Goth clubs a
few nights a month. Her Goth self is wrapped up in a weird blend
with Mormonism too, from a forty-five-minute tour of Mormon
Square in Salt Lake City, and whatever Judaism she inhales from the
Jews around her. She's not the oldest woman in the club, and the
lights are low, and she wears spectral makeup, darker than Siouxsie
Sioux, covering the lines around her eyes with delicate gore, so that
she looks like the Mistress of the House of Usher after a raven croaking
"Nevermore" has blinded her, artfully.
Excerpted from THE RETURN OF THE PLAYER
by Michael Tolkin
Copyright © 2006 by Michael Tolkin.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you're looking for an exciting murder plot, look elsewhere....if you're looking for a boooooring book on a dysfunctional family, buy this book immediately. It just goes on and on and on about this boring family that is so screwed up, it doesn't leave room for a murder story....