Happy Thursday everyone! Today, I’ve got an extract for you from Tom Lutz’s Born Slippy (not a lager in sight).
A big thank you to Alice at Coriolis Company for providing me with the extract.
A provocative, globe-trotting, time-shifting novel about the seductions of — and resistance to — toxic masculinity.
“Frank knew as well as anyone how stories start and how they end. This fiery mess, or something like it, was bound to happen. He had been expecting it for years.”
Frank Baltimore is a bit of a loser, struggling by as a carpenter and handyman in rural New England when he gets his big break, building a mansion in the executive suburbs of Hartford. One of his workers is a charismatic eighteen-year-old kid from Liverpool, Dmitry, in the US in the summer before university. Dmitry is a charming sociopath, who develops a fascination with his autodidactic philosopher boss, perhaps thinking that, if he could figure out what made Frank tick, he could be less of a pig. Dmitry heads to Asia and makes a neo-imperialist fortune, with a trail of corpses in his wake. When Dmitry’s office building in Taipei explodes in an enormous fireball, Frank heads to Asia, falls in love with Dmitry’s wife, and things go from bad to worse.
Combining the best elements of literary thriller, noir and political satire, Born Slippy is a darkly comic and honest meditation on modern life under global capitalism.
Frank had had one last chance, on that first, fateful trip to Taiwan, to talk with Dmitry about his dire straits, the day he was leaving, his head full of Yuli and not much more. Prabam drove him to the immaculate Credit Lyonnais building on the way to the airport and Dmitry came out to meet them. He and Frank walked across the street to a Starbucks, where they were handed large lattes the minute they walked in. He must have ordered them from the office. He said something in Chinese to the clerk and they walked back out.
“Don’t we have to pay?”
“I bought this franchise, Franky, once I calculated how much I was spending here. It’s a fine product, Starbucks. The people on the Green Tortoise all seemed to think Starbucks was the Great Satan, and we would ride around for miles looking for substitutes, which baffled me. I tried to explain that Nescafé was in fact the Great Satan. They had no idea what I was talking about.” He was keeping up the banter, but it was obvious he was worried.
“So what’s the trouble?” Frank asked and Dmitry looked at him with that assessor’s gaze, as if he were not so much reading Frank’s expression as doing math.
“Nothing in particular. You have to understand, Franky. When you deal with the sums I do, you necessarily end up dealing with some perfectly atrocious people.”
“Criminals,” Frank said. “Yes, and worse.”
“Yes, heads of state.”
“Well, naturally that works as a witticism, Franky, but it is also true. You know who Robert Mugabe is?”
“The dictator, from Zimbabwe.” “Yes.”
“You take care of Mugabe’s money?”
“Of course not, Franky, or I wouldn’t have used him as an example. But a lot of people just as bad, and almost all of them richer — Zimbabwe has a tiny GDP.”
“The generals from Myanmar.” “No comment.”
“That guy in Sudan.”
“I wish. Now there’s an account. But they do it all in house. If they need a banker they seize a bank. But you get the picture.”
He ushered Frank back across the street. Dmitry looked like a different species among the passing Taiwanese, a foot taller and a foot wider, much slower and whiter.
“You don’t feel like you’re aiding and abetting genocide helping these guys?”
“Well, that’s rather dramatic, isn’t it? But look, you know that I knew, the minute I started to tell you this, that you would lecture me, right? That you would launch into a dissertation on my ethics?”
They had walked back to the car, waiting in front of the snazzy glass office building, under the Credit Lyonnais logo. Prabam got out and waited at a discreet distance, ready to grab the door.
“And you also know that I already know exactly what you’re going to say, that I know the lecture by heart. So can we please cut to the chase and say, you are absolutely right, point taken, and then move on?”
Frank didn’t feel that needed a response.
“As you know, the accounts in your name, with money for you and for my family—”
“I don’t really need the money any more, the retirement account, I’m doing fine, doing well.”
“Yes, that’s wonderful, Franky, but we are not talking about that kind of money, not pay-the-mortgage money. We’re talking about owning a few thousand performing mortgages, that kind of money. Your-own-plane-and-island money. And since there is a possibility that, should the worst case scenario occur and I disappear—”
“Come, Franky, don’t play coy. Some of these people have no qualms about killing off an entire ethnic group, much less disposing of a witness to their embezzlement. So it could happen. I am fairly certain that I have enough safeguards in place—”
“Safeguards? Prabam’s great, but doesn’t seem like much of a bodyguard.”
“It’s not like that, Franky. This is not the Hollywood version, the lone killer, the foiling of security systems, the car chase. There aren’t enough bodyguards in the world to protect you from these people. They’ll irradiate your entire town to get you. If they decide you need to die, you die. But I have made clear the retributive exposure that would follow upon my death, what hell would break loose — legally and financially, that is, not Bruce Willis with some big guns. So I think we are all clear, Franky, and do not worry, I’m not asking you to be involved with anything along those lines; I have people in place.”
“But there is always the chance that irrationality triumphs. These people are sociopaths, naturally, and well — like living in California, it makes sense to be prepared for an earthquake.”
He was going to say something else, but stopped himself, before concluding: “If there is an earthquake, you take care of the family.”
“Yes, Franky, I can count on you there, can’t I? And don’t look so glum! There may be nothing to worry about at all. The only thing, right now, that you need to worry about,” he said, making the smallest of facial gestures to the driver, who opened the door for Frank, whereupon he got, semi-automatically, into the car, “is catching your plane.”
Prabam had lowered the window while he held the door for him, and as he closed it. Dmitry leaned down to it.
“I’m glad you came, Franky, to see me in my native environs,” he said, and then he turned to go. “Safe trip!”
Prabam got in the front seat, and as he pulled from the curb Dmitry was already disappearing into the building.
Frank felt, what? Foreboding? Mourning, almost. Did he lecture Dmitry that much? Maybe he did. Why? Obviously it did no good. They had been talking about ethics for over a decade now, and he was more glaringly amoral every time Frank saw him. So why did Dmitry keep asking for more, and why did Frank come here? Did some part of Dmitry want to be talked out of this life he’d chosen? Did he want moral support and guidance, however much he said he didn’t? Or what?
Who Is Tom Lutz?
Tom Lutz is a writer of books, articles, and screenplays, the founder of the Los Angeles Review of Books, and is now Distinguished Professor at UC Riverside. His books include American Book Award winner Doing Nothing, New York Times notable books Crying and American Nervousness, 1903, the travel books And the Monkey Learned Nothing and Drinking Mare’s Milk on the Roof of the World, and coming on January 14, 2020, Born Slippy: A Novel.
He has written for television and film, and appeared in scores of national and international newspapers, magazines, academic journals, and edited collections. He is working with a Los Angeles-based production company on a television show set in the 1920s, is finishing a third collection of travel pieces, a book on the 1920s (The Modern Surface), and is in the early stages of a book on global conflict along the aridity line.
Twitter: @TomLutz22 https://twitter.com/tomlutz22
Instagram: @tmlutz22 https://instagram.com/tmlutz22