The Plagiarist

(Atheneum; 1992)

“Let’s start a magazine

to hell with literature
we want something redblooded…”
—e.e. cummings
This was my first novel. I was extremely grateful that it had found a publisher and so gave in when they asked me to leave out the lines that first drew me to the poem:
graced with guts and gutted
with grace

squeeze your nuts
and open your face

Looks now like a shameful abridgement. I’ve often allowed myself to be reasoned out of expressive excesses. For one of the novels, I wrote this blurb:
Losing your hair? Getting thick around the middle? This novel will grow hair on an egg. Read these pages, and you’ll lose seven pounds in a week. If you’re a man women will fall at your feet. If you’re a woman…. I don’t know. What do women want? Whatever they want, you’ll have it. Benjamin Hale Cheever is a great talent and an even greater man.
—Benjamin Hale Cheever  
I don’t recall now who it was, but somebody felt that I’d be misunderstood, that a book with such a blurb could not be taken seriously. And so I caved. It’s fashionable to see one’s failings as unique, but I happen to know that the tendency to give in to “wiser” heads is not unusual. There are rogue writers just as there are rogue policemen and rogue train conductors, but most writers—like Rodney King—just want to get along.
In any case, what follows is the opening of the book. I haven’t changed a word. Although I was sorely tempted.
There is a giant oak in front of World Headquarters with a sign on it. The sign says that the tree was a mature specimen when the First Continental Congress met in 1774. The sign does not say that the tree was in Connecticut until 1939. That was the year they dug it up. The roots were wrapped in damp burlap, the leaves coated with paraffin, so that it would not dry out on the truck. The behemoth survives to this day, although it has to be fed regularly with chemical fertilizer. Most of its larger branches are help up by cables.
“In this part of New York it’s hard to tell a World Headquarters from a Bloomingdale’s,” Mongoose had told Arthur when they talked on the phone. “If you see the tree you’re in the right place.”
“Get off at exit twenty-nine,” he said. “That’s the one right after Paradise. The main building is a brick wedding cake with white trim.”
“I think I’ve seen it from the parkway,” said Arthur. “Doesn’t it look like one of the colleges I decided against?”
“That’s right,” said Mongoose. “People like to say that the grounds look like the world would look if God had had money.”

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