This one’s been a long time coming, and it’s going to be a little bit longer: the sequel to my 2011 novel EUTOPIA: A Novel of Terrible Optimism*. The book is due out from ChiZine Publications a bit less than a year from now; the manuscript is not yet ready. But this week, my friend Erik Mohr delivered this cover–a to-my-eye spectacular iteration of the design that he supplied for the front of EUTOPIA.
By the time VOLK comes out, it will have been six years since that one, my first novel was published. For the people in EUTOPIA, it will have been a little longer: the story takes up 20 years later and a continent away, in France and Bavaria, in 1931.
I can’t show off much of that now, but back in 2014 I did offer a taste, at the back of my story collection KNIFE FIGHT and Other Struggles: the prologue, “Orlok.”
Here’s a taste of the taste, of the opening, which takes place a little earlier than 1931:
“Was he beautiful?”
As though he had just registered his own nakedness at that instant, Gottlieb blinked and covered himself.
“Beautiful? No. He was compelling. Huge. Very muscular.”
“And you were sexually attracted to him.”
“Of course I was.”
The doctor allowed a dozen beats of the metronome before he spoke the obvious: “He was not like you.”
Gottlieb was grasping at his penis. The doctor made no attempt to disguise his observation of that fact and noted with satisfaction that Gottlieb didn’t seem to care. He was as guileless as a babe then. Could a metronome tick triumphantly? The doctor let it, twice more.
“Describe to me the ways he was like you.”
Gottlieb drew a deep breath and turned to the windows. They were open a crack to clear the air from the morning’s session, and the sweet smell of apple blossom wafted in. The doctor was used to the smell—this was a room in which he spent a great deal of time—but he noted it, along with the flaring of Gottlieb’s delicate nostrils.
“How was he like you?” asked the doctor again.
“I don’t really know,” said Gottlieb. “I didn’t know him for very long.”
“All right. He was German like me. And he was my age.”
“How old were you then?”
The slightest frown. “Twenty-two.”
The doctor looked again to the window. A conversation was drifting in along with the apple blossom scent. Two of the girls—Heidi and Anna? Yes. He recognized Anna’s lisp, and she and Heidi were inseparable. Ergo . . .
They weren’t too distracting—they would barely register on the recording. If they lingered, or became silly, he would have to stand and shut the window, and risk disturbing Gottlieb. But the pair were on their way somewhere, and within four ticks of the metronome were gone. The doctor settled back.
“His hair was brown,” said Gottlieb. “Like mine too.”
“And he was homosexual,” said Gottlieb.
Four more ticks now.
“But not like me.”
“Tell me how he is not like you.”
“As to his homosexuality?”
“If you like. Yes.”
“He is a masculine force. He looks at me and causes me to feel as if . . . as if I am not. Not masculine.”
The doctor smiled. The last time Gottlieb had spoken of this moment, he’d immediately denied his homosexuality. They were progressing very well, at least as measured against their stated objective of delving into Gottlieb’s neurosis. The doctor started to reach for a pencil where his breast pocket would have been, but stopped himself and settled his hands back in his lap. He spoke quietly, calmly, in rhythm. Like a lullaby. “He is looking at you now,” he said.
Gottlieb flushed and, as his hand came away from his penis, the doctor was pleased to see it was flushed too.
“In the beer hall, yes?” said the doctor.
Gottlieb stretched his slender legs on the chaise longue, and his eyelids fluttered shut. A breeze from the window lifted the drapes, and raised gooseflesh as it passed. The air in the beer hall would not have been so fresh as this alpine breath.
“In the Bürgerbräukeller,” said Gottlieb.
“What does it smell like?”
“Many things. Food . . . there is a basket of schnitzel nearby. There is some smoke. I mean from tobacco. And the whole place stinks of old beer. Of course. Men have been drinking beer all day.”
The doctor waited until it seemed as though Gottlieb might drift off to sleep, before prodding:
“Where is he?”
Gottlieb smiled. “He is leaned against a pillar. By himself, across the hall from me. He is a very ugly man—his eyebrows meet in the middle of his forehead, so it seems he is scowling into his beer mug.”
The doctor shifted in his chair. The towel he’d placed on the leather cushioning had moved, and in the warmth of the day the bare skin of his buttocks was sticking there. But he fought to contain his discomfort, his growing impatience. The metronome ticked seven times more before Gottlieb was ready to continue.
*Coincidentally, the second printing of EUTOPIA has just recently arrived. The first printing in 2011 was unusually large, because of an unusually large death-bed order from the late Borders chain, but it is finally all gone. It should be noted that this second run is NOT the illustrated version that I promised earlier this year. That will be coming out later, a little closer to VOLK’s release.