Then, while leaving the library, I happened to glance down at a coverless paperback novel that somebody had discarded. It looked like some kind of Jacqueline Susann novel or the like, so I was only mildly curious.
Then I saw, printed on the little hype sheet on the first page:
TAKES YOU INSIDE THE WORLD OF BROADWAY'S "GYPSY" DANCERS
Well, I have an interest in that-Chorus Line and all that jazz, to say nothing of All That Jazz. So I turn to the spine to see who the author of this stunning novel is.
Can it be? Can it be that the arrogant, oily, unctuous idiot of Inside the Actors Studio once wrote a novel?
I flip to the dedication page:
For my wife, Kedakai Turner Lipton, who did me the small service of redefining the universe...
Oh yes. Yes it can. And the man even writes arrogant, oily, unctuous and idiotic.
Before the first chapter we are given a lengthy quotation from Rimbaud, which Lipton reprints both in the original French and in an English translation. Then we are given the definition of the dance term Pas de Deux, and are informed that:
The classical form consists of an entrée, adagio, two variations and a coda.Wait, there's still more. You see, we are now told that what follows is an ENTREE. Gee, I wonder how the book is structured. Okay. Now we turn the page, and see that (finally) the book proper is about to begin.
But it's not the first chapter, no no no, no way. It's:
ONE, two, three, four
This is the first page of the novel, unedited:
Vibrant. A foot. Pulsing in space. Cruelly arched, against nature, against sense. Under the quivering skin the clenched muscles sent a desperate plea to the distant, unheeding cortex: Stop! Enough!
The teacher, narrow and urgent, glided past the rows of students, one hand afloat, ready to point, to prod, to accuse. He passed next to a dancer, standing like all the others on one leg, the other leg extended, foot pointed toward the ceiling, taut knee nearly brushing ear. The dancer, feeling the teacher's close, reproachful presence, dug deeper into the floor with the supporting foot, toes cluching at the unyielding wood.
"Too heavy. Lighten it. Reach up!" the teacher rasped and moved on through a thicket of wool: tights, sweaters, leg warmers, stained and tattered as overloved teddy bears, but essential to the never-ending battle against the lurking enemy, cold air on warm muscle. Once again the teacher turned to scold. "Turn out."
Under the agonized muscles, the senseless bone. No pain there, no signal. But change, anomaly, the big nob at the top of the thighbone twisted backward as if by a powerful hand.
According to that same hype sheet in the front, those dancers are:
Always short on cash and long on hopes, they live together in glitter and squalor on New York's West Side, sharing their lovers, their heartaches, their dreams.
Carin knew that her own dreams had come true when she became part of their world...
Diane. She took Carin in and taught her everything dancers must know to survive.
Terry. The aging "gypsy," facing the crossroads that every dancer dreads, he gave Carin a special gift.
Gino. Brash, ambitious, sensuous, he showed Carin what a great partner can mean to a dancer.
Chris. He followed Carin a thousand miles, only to find he was losing her to her other great love-to that breathtaking moment when the house lights go down and the curtain goes up!
To be fair, Lipton presumably didn't write those descriptions, but they definitely capture his melodramatic style. Senseless bone, big nob anyone?
What's really weird is that the book comes adorned with quotes by people some of whose work I've admired very much, including Pete Hamill, Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon, Neil Simon, and Cy Coleman.
Fosse tells us,
"The all-night dance rehearsal scene was so real my muscles ached after reading it."
I'm going on the assumption that these people are or were friends of Lipton, and had not completely lost their critical faculties. But I intend struggling through this book as best I can-if nothing else it promises to be funnier than if Douglas Adams came back from the dead to write for Futurama.
If it turns out I'm wrong and the late Mr. Fosse, et all are right, I'll eat these words here. I wouldn't make any really big bets on that happening, however.
By the way, walking back to my apartment building from my car, I passed (apparently) the same faux Sarcophagus...but not in the same place. Now there's something you don't see every day...twice...