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Irish novelist Kennedy Marr is a first rate bad boy. When he is not earning a fortune as one of Hollywood’s most sought after scriptwriters, he is drinking, insulting, and philandering his way through Los Angeles, ‘successfully debunking the myth that men are unable to multitask.’ He is loved by many women, but loathed by even more including ex-wives on both sides of the pond.
Kennedy’s appetite for trouble is insatiable, but when he discovers that he owes 1.4 million dollars in back taxes, it seems his outrageous, hedonistic lifestyle may not be as sustainable as he thought. Forced to accept a teaching position at sleepy Deeping University, where his ex-wife and teenaged daughter now reside, Kennedy returns to England with a paper trail of tabloid headlines and scorned starlets hot on his bespoke heels. However, as he acclimatizes to the quaint campus Kennedy is forced to reconsider his laddish lifestyle. Incredible as it may seem, there might actually be a father and a teacher lurking inside this ‘preening, narcissistic, priapic sociopath’.
“A sharp and knowing satire of the film industry, publishing and academia.” —The Guardian
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He recrossed his legs, comfortable in the club chair, and gazed out through the floor-to-ceiling windows, pretending to consider the question. From where he sat, nicely chilled by the AC, high in Century City (the shark tank of CAA just down the street), Kennedy Marr could look east and see downtown Los Angeles broiling in the July heat. 'Broiling'. Ach – these Americans. He'd been here eight years and he still didn't really know what 'broiling' was. Somewhere between frying and boiling? Wouldn't 'froiling' be better? Whatever – it was just after 11 a.m. and it was already froiling. This demented city, this insult to nature: a garden carved out of desert basin. Like maintaining a 20,000-hectare greenhouse in the Arctic. He became aware that Dr Brendle – one of this demented city's more demented creations, Kennedy thought – was looking at him expectantly, his pinched, serious face demanding an answer. Kennedy now realised he had completely forgotten what the question had been. Not a listener.
'Could you, ah, could you rephrase that please?' he said, smoothing down the leg of his linen suit, feeling the sluggish tug of the enormous screwdriver he'd guzzled at a bar off Santa Monica Boulevard on the way here, to fortify himself for this hellish, weekly appointment.
'Well, another way of putting it,' Brendle said, clicking his pen on and off, 'would be to ask why, as an intelligent man whose working life must involve a good degree of self-analysis, do you continue to indulge in behaviour that you know is hurtful to those around you?'
Kennedy pretended to think about this while he framed his response. What he wanted to say was 'Ach. Stick it up in your fucking hole.' He imagined saying it, his accent hardening, veering from the soft, southern Irish brogue he used for general American consumption – restaurants, women, chat shows – into the rougher-edged Limerick estate one he was born with. Finally Kennedy said, 'I don't see how my work is that relevant, Les. You know, "be not too hasty to trust the teachers of morality; they discourse like angels but they live like men", and all that bollocks.'
Brendle smiled. 'I see.' He made a note.
You see? You see what, you horrible fucking gobshite?
Brendle sighed, removed his glasses and rubbed his eyeballs. 'I'm perfectly aware you don't want to be here, Kennedy. I'm also aware that you, ah, preferred Dr Schlesinger.' The bastard, Kennedy noticed, even allowed himself a little smile here. 'And I'm also very conscious of Freud's maxim that there are no people more impervious to psychoanalysis than the Irish. However, as you have no choice, wouldn't it be an idea to try and obtain something from the experience? To try and understand why you're here? It seems to me ...'
Kennedy drifted off. He had another meeting to go to after this, at his manager's office. Two meetings in one day? How on earth had he allowed this hell to be scheduled? He looked at the wall behind Brendle, at the framed diplomas and citations. Why was he here? He felt it was hard to answer this more simply than with R. P. McMurphy's response to the same question: As near as I can figure out it's cause I fight and fuck too much.
A couple of months back, in the spring, happy hour in the Powerhouse just off Hollywood Boulevard, a regular, fertile hunting ground where Kennedy had been enjoying his fifth or sixth Long Island iced tea of the evening, he'd got talking to a woman at the bar – in her early thirties, not unattractive, looked like she knew how to work a cock, so to speak – and it turned out she'd vaguely heard of him. She'd heard of one of his books and had certainly heard of some of the movies he'd worked on.
As they tended to when you were writing a novel, one sentence led to another and, pretty soon, Kennedy had his hand jammed inside her blouse, her hands in his thick black hair, in a booth in the back corner, near the pool table. Low orange light, the Stooges on the jukebox, their teeth mashing together and a nipple tautening pleasingly between his thumb and index finger when he heard the words,'HEY! WHAT THE FUCK!' Quickly followed by 'Oh shit' from the owner of the nipple.
And the guy – this BAW (Boyfriend, Asshole, Whatever) – wasn't bad, Kennedy had to admit later. He didn't instantly swing a wild, badly aimed punch like so many would have done. Or start the trash-talking, giving his opponent valuable seconds to get to their feet. No. He simply reached across the table, grabbed Kennedy by the lapels – the lapels of a very nice suit from Gieves & Hawkes of No. 1 Savile Row as a matter of fact – and tore him out of the booth. Which was when Kennedy realised exactly how very big the fellow was. He wore some sort of mechanic's outfit, with the name 'Todd' stitched above the breast pocket. This Todd held Kennedy up, Kennedy's feet cartoon bicycling in the air, and held him close to his empurpling face. And it was a useful face this, no question – latticed with acne, a broad, trenched forehead, bulbous nose dotted with broken blood vessels, but the eyes hard and clear. He started to say, 'What the fuck do you think you're ...' which was a mistake. Because it gave Kennedy a moment to think.
With pub fighting, as in all the creative arts, it was crucial to avoid cliché. You had to come at it from strange angles and oblique perspectives. Your opening had to be strong and unexpected. Then, scene by scene, you had to make your point quickly and get the fuck out of there. In this last respect pub fighting was very much like the bitch Kennedy had betrayed the novel for. It was like screen-writing, where economy was king. So, while Todd tore on into the words 'doing with my fucking girlfriend', Kennedy cast his opening sentence.
He clamped his hands around the back of the guy's head, lunged forward, and sank his teeth into the luscious strawberry of his nose.
Todd now tried to reverse his strategy – to get Kennedy the fuck off him. The two of them spun around the bar, smashing glasses, knocking into people, while the girlfriend screamed, Iggy howled '1969', and blood streamed into Kennedy's mouth. (Brief Aids fear.) Then, with a superhuman roar, Todd tore Kennedy off his face and threw him across the room, sending him smashing down onto the pool table. Man, that hurt. Kennedy looked up to see – bad this, very bad – his opponent hurtling towards him, his face and shirt covered in blood. Just as Todd reached him, drawing his fist back, getting ready to pummel Kennedy into the red baize, Kennedy became aware of shapes and noises behind the guy – black outlines, the crackle and fizz of radios, and the clatter of nightsticks being drawn in a confined wooden space. The LAPD.
'Thank you,' Kennedy said, straightening his tie, wiping blood from his mouth, as two of the cops piled onto his thrashing, screaming foe, driving him to the floor, fumbling for the plastic cuffs.
'You OK, buddy?' the third cop was asking Kennedy.
'I think so, officer,' Kennedy panted, wiping blood that the cop had clearly taken to be his own from his face.
'HEY! HEY!' from the cops on the floor as Todd bucked and kicked and raged, throwing one of them off. 'Shit. This guy. Here, get his —'
'Fuck this – CLEAR!' one of the cops shouted.
Kennedy picked up an abandoned whisky from a nearby table and drained it while he watched his opponent being tasered unconscious.
He really was, as his mother had often told him, born under a lucky star.
But not that lucky of course. Inevitably, boringly, there were many witnesses to how the actual thing got started, to the fact that Kennedy had drunk half a dozen cocktails, that he'd been cleaning the guy's girlfriend's lungs with his tongue, that he'd nearly chewed the guy's hooter off. This being California and Kennedy being the only one in the bar with any real net worth, the lawsuits soon started flopping into the in-tray of the weary Bernie P. Wigram, Attorney-at-Law, Kennedy's lawyer.
Todd was suing Kennedy for the cost of a new nose. His girlfriend was suing Kennedy for sexual assault. Some woman was suing Kennedy for the trauma of having witnessed the fight. The fucking bar was suing Kennedy. He was only mildly surprised that Iggy Pop wasn't filing a suit for something like 'conducting an unlicensed fight to the soundtrack of his music'. Everyone settled in the end – the whole tab running into the low six figures – and Kennedy went to court only on the assault charge. As it was his third appearance on a public disorder indictment in less than two years (punching out a director by the pool at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, urinating in someone's garden on Fountain) the judge gave him a stark choice: court-mandated therapy or sixty days in jail. So here he was, gazing hatefully at Brendle and wishing for the umpteenth time that he'd taken the jail term. The forty-four-yearold author, the youngest writer ever to make the Booker shortlist: sitting in an office in Century City on a Monday morning listening to the wisdom and insight of a man with a lower-second-class degree from a state university.
And that crack about Dr Schlesinger ...
Dr Nicole Schlesinger had been Brendle's predecessor as Kennedy's court-appointed therapist. And she'd been far more agreeable. So agreeable in fact that after their third session Kennedy had taken her for drinks at the Chateau Marmont, where he'd introduced her to Brett Ratner, Angelina Jolie and the concept of double Martinis.
He hadn't even made it home that night. He fucked her in a bungalow out by the jungly pool at the Chateau.
Enter Dr Leslie Brendle. Who was now looking at him again, expecting an answer to something or other. God, he wanted a cigarette. 'Sorry?' Kennedy said.
Brendle sighed. 'Let's try something less contentious. Tell me about your weekend. What happened?'
'Oh, the usual. Nothing much.'
But stuff always happened.
Friday night had been the usual: dinner with the boys at some new restaurant a friend of a friend was opening, then on to Soho House for drinks and then home in the early hours with some actress girl who had once been in an ABC sitcom. Saturday he'd had a quiet night in. Ah, well, after a fashion ...
Kennedy had been stretched out in bed with whisky, cigar and laptop, quietly enjoying some YouPorn footage – a lesbian duo with a brace of draught-excluder-sized dildos – when a Skype call burbled through from a girl called Megan he'd met in New York a few months back. He clicked on 'accept' and one thing led to another and pretty soon Megan was providing Kennedy with her own floor show, live from her Brooklyn apartment. He reduced the YouPorn window and was enjoying Megan's work very much – such brio! such determination! The enthusiasm of the amateur versus the slick professionalism going down next to her – when he felt his iPhone buzzing on the bed next to him: a text from PattyCakes2, Patricia, a red-headed live wire he'd met at a reading in San Francisco last year. She was replying to a message he'd sent her earlier asking 'How's tricks? What you up to?' Her reply took the form of an attached photo. Kennedy's eyes strayed from the laptop to the phone and saw that she seemed to be ... was ... was that an aubergine? He started typing an encouraging reply with his thumb, one eye still on Megan who was now – Jesus – and one hand languidly massaging the front of his boxer shorts. Suddenly a phone started ringing somewhere. He looked around the room, spilling whisky in the process, before he realised it was coming from the screen. Megan saying, 'Hang on, baby, I gotta take this,' and walking out of shot.
Well, fucking hell. Moving the cursor and re-enlarging the YouPorn window Kennedy found that, at some point in the last few minutes, his lesbians had been joined by a seven-foot ebony quarterback and that the business had reached a happy conclusion. Indeed it looked like someone had hosed the trio down with a water cannon directly connected to a mains supply of wallpaper paste.
Scrolling down the YouPorn menu Kennedy clicked on the words 'I'M KHLOE – PLAYING WITH MYSELF LIVE NOW!' and soon found himself having a chat with a twenty-something Midwestern girl wielding an atomic-pink vibrator.
'Hi, Jim,' she said, using the name Kennedy had given. 'What do you want me to do?'
'Well, just, I think, just use your best judgement, Khloe,' Kennedy said. And very soon, she was. Oof. Then his mobile was buzzing again – the 'FaceTime' app. Incoming. He clicked on it to discover that Patricia in San Fran had decided to go live. There she was – mashing two heavy breasts together, tugging on her nipples as though she were trying, urgently, to remove them and saying, 'I want you inside me.' Then another voice was saying, 'Sorry, baby, where were we? 'And Kennedy realised Megan was back on Skype. He tapped the volume on the laptop down and shuttled his gaze between Khloe and Megan on the two open windows on the laptop and Patricia on the iPhone, like an air traffic controller working three screens, trying to head off impending disaster as the converging flight paths racked up above him. (He also became aware of something physical, a vaguely unpleasant sensation. It took him a moment to identify it. Rolling the pad of his thumb up and down over his erect penis he felt something, undoubtedly felt something beneath the skin. It was tiny but hard, like there was a grain of sand embedded just beneath the skin of his cock. This was new. By manoeuvring his thumb more up the side of the shaft rather than directly on top of it – almost like he was holding it while making a 'thumbs up' gesture – he found he was able to avoid direct contact with the area and continue wanking in satisfactory fashion.)
While juggling all of this Kennedy was also trying to drink and smoke a Cohiba, clearly giving the lie to the myth about the contemporary male's inability to multitask. Kennedy was multitasking like a surgeon in a busy field hospital who was studying for the Bar while talking down a fleet of hijacked 747s.
'Oh oh oh, Jesus Christ ...' Patricia in San Francisco was moaning. (And just how long could an aubergine take that kind of punishment?) 'I want you to come in my fucking face,' Megan in New York was screaming, one stockinged leg hooked over the headboard, middle and index fingers of her right hand moving like a hummingbird's wings over the tuft of her crotch.
'YOU WANT THIS TO BE YOUR COCK, DON'T YOU, JIM?' Khloe in Fuck-Knows-Where was yelling as, on all fours, she began pushing the pink monster into her rectum. (And who the fuck was Jim?)
Wearing two different headphones in each ear – one giving him Patricia from the iPhone, the other Khloe and Megan from the laptop – and responding only in generic sex-speak, avoiding using any real names, solved the problem of alerting the girls to one another's presence, but it did mean that, as matters advanced on all fronts, Kennedy was increasingly being treated to a deafening stereo barrage of what sounded like the inside of a delivery room during a fire. Panic. Confusion. Grunting and screaming. It was here, his legs juddering and shaking as the point of no return approached, that Kennedy made what would prove to be his cataclysmic mistake. Hurriedly reaching for the Kleenex he felt the headphone to the iPhone tugging loose from his right ear. Grabbing the phone and lifting it over up – he was very keen not to lose Patricia's feed at that particular moment, when she so close to proving his theory about the limited resilience of eggplant correct – he fumbled and dropped the device straight into the tumbler of iced Macallan and soda balanced on his chest. Leaping forward to try and whip it out he upended the whole glassful – sending it cascading all over the keyboard of the MacAir balanced on his stomach.
A few minutes later, as he sat there panting and blinking amid the soaked 500-thread-count sheets and the thousands of dollars' worth of ruined technology, Kennedy reflected – and he reflected ruefully. Yes, rue was definitely involved here – that he might just have avoided disaster, might just have been able to rectify the situation, had he not been ejaculating at the same time.
Man, the Internet.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Straight White Male"
Copyright © 2013 John. Niven.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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