My Mad Russian
In the title tale, Piotyr Alexandreyevitch Primov brings his invention—the eerie Primover, the first electronic musical instrument—to 1933 New York. There he finds patrons in a society couple, Mr. and Mrs. Max Berlin. Berlin, a banker, proposes a business partnership to exploit the science behind the Primover, while his wife forms a more intimate partnership with the inventor. The husband hires detectives, but finds himself stymied when Stalin intervenes. Atmospheric and engrossing, My Mad Russian takes its inspiration from the real-life legend of Léon Theremin and his wealthy patrons, Walter and Lucie Rosen—a story the author encountered (and here embellishes) as a teenage underbutler at the Rosens’ Westchester County estate, Caramoor.
Big Luck moves the scene to the early 2000s and Silver Lake, in Los Angeles, where an out-of-work actor, after winning the lottery, enlists his Mexican immigrant friend to help evade taxes on his prize; what happens next prompts the friend to re-examine his application for U.S. citizenship. Sidestep is a story of the heartland, where in 1984 the heir to generations of industrialists, after having to close the old factory, manages to recoup his fortunes through agriculture. The narrator, Cindy, wavers among three loves as she recounts a new challenge from drug dealers.
A fable of the RV lifestyle in a Kansas Eden, complete with serpents!
The Wedding on Big Bone Hill
After losing his lover and (in the wake of 9/11) his job, Jack hits the road in a classic RV on the quest for Paradise, USA. It seems he’s found it in a summer job at a bucolic Kansas park, but this Eden turns out to be as tricky as the original. The head ranger, soon to marry Donna atop Big Bone Hill, lets Donna’s father, Percy, an ex-con who is a stickler for the rules, run the park.
Percy's conviction is that everybody tries to get away with something, but that anyone once allowed to get away with anything will try to get away with more, and he (if he alone) can see where that leads—he being the poster child for getting away with nothing. His constant search for infractions keeps the whole community on edge, including his widow friend Maureen, Dennis (who runs the entrance booth), and the Beanblossoms, workamper entrepreneurs who introduce into Eden the shirtless Rick.
A little boy goes missing on the late summer weekend when The Wedding on Big Bone Hill is to take place, and Percy undertakes the lonesome task of meting out justice—threatening tragedy in an otherwise ruefully funny celebration of the upside-down underpinnings of an American microcosm.
My family is more fucked up than the norm, OK? That’s why I work like a maniac, to keep out of the house. Not that it helps, when everyone I meet is so fucked up.
That’s how Queer’s Progress, a compelling story of young love, opens. The speaker is Edward, Cuban-born CCNY honor student and a page at the New York Public Library (“just a page, not a whole book or anything”). Edward is handsome, charming, reeking of sex.
Ned, who’s seen it all before, adds his voice when Andrew, a young scholar new to town, falls in love with Edward at first sight and seeks the older man’s guidance.
Ned’s the self-styled master of gay Manhattan—founder of "Gays Reaching Out” and author of a bestselling manual, How to Score Tonight. He offers hands-on instruction as required, but is more interested in using Andrew’s publishing connections to kick-start his own languishing literary career than in aiding his love life.
Andrew makes stumbling progress through gay New York in pursuit of Edward. But Edward, in flight from a pregnant hookup, leaps from his mom’s Harlem apartment to flop on his oldest friend’s floor, his best friend’s couch, Andrew’s bed, the West Side Y, a patch of ivy in Central Park—and a jail cell or two. Ned’s machinations come to naught as Queer’s Progress races relentlessly toward a classic, but surprising, inevitability. It’s a tale by turns savage and urbane, lyrical and full of wit-burnished emotion.
The Man in the Balloon:
Harvey Joiner's Wondrous 1877
This lively biographical study, impeccably researched and copiously illustrated, is the first ever published on Harvey Joiner, once a well-known American painter.
It brings Joiner to life as a 25-year-old prankster in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a rip-roaring river town where he finds himself at the crossroads of his career. The witty wood-engraved advertising images that have occupied him since he was a teenager have ceased to sell, and he is beginning to paint the pictures he will become known for, especially the landscapes that, evoking the region's beech groves, filter the light falling from their green-leafed canopies through personal responses and meanings. Moreover, he promotes himself nonstop, placing items about his pictures in local newspapers and hobnobbing with the gentry and painting their portraits.
But Joiner will stave off adulthood a little longer with a series of pranks, launching hot air balloons of increasing size, until his biggest--seen to be carrying a man in its basket--soars across the Ohio River and the rooftops of Louisville, Kentucky.
Before his wondrous year is out, Joiner's teetotal pledge attracts patrons who give him the commission of a lifetime, and he paints his masterpiece, Ruth Gleaning in the Fields of Boaz, for the Utica (Indiana) Christian Church. Analyzing the complex Bible story of how Ruth achieves security, he places the young widow in harvest fields at day's end, a moment of respite and possibility he makes personal by recalling his own widowed mother's dilemma and depicting the very fields of his boyhood.
In The Man in the Balloon: Harvey Joiner's Wondrous 1877, an American painter steps out of the shadows of neglect.
Excerpt (publisher's website)
ISBN (paper only) 978-1-62249-101-8
Photo from p.119 Notable Men of Kentucky at the Beginning of the 20th Century (1901-1902), by Benjamin La Bree (Louisville: George G. Fetter, 1902)
New York / Siena
two short novels
The sharply rendered, weirdly palindromic novels of New York / Siena rush with wit and verve to opposite endings. In The Man Who Owned New York, guileless fledgling cleric “Dick Rover” Stackpole is newly installed in 1907 Manhattan’s richest Episcopal parish when his safely bishop-bound future is threatened: A Kansas farmer claims title to the huge chunk of Manhattan property that has enriched the parish since the American Revolution. The farmer’s proofs (and his daughter Delia) look irresistible, and Stackpole intervenes, committing a gaudy crime to secure the farmer's patrimony. Springtime in Siena follows an obscure young academic, hungry for fame and wealth, as he leads a semester-abroad student group to Tuscany in 1974. Knowing his charges are less interested in Italy’s art than in sex, Gary sleeps with his students of both sexes until, coldly modifying his own voracious behavior, he winds up, still hungry, with everything he’s dreamed of.
An impatient Depression-era heiress hurries her inheritance along!
All That Money
Inspired by Real Events. Celebrity crimes often breed rumors that the victim was complicit. In the Lucie Spode White kidnapping case, the rumors are true.
Falls City's sexy Depression belle is a high-living heiress whose stingy husband expects her to get by on her pin money. She's only 25 and won't come into her inheritance until she's 30. How can she possibly make it? Generous—if ruthless—with her favors, when she can't raise the cash for a room at a hot-pillow motel, Lucie enlists her handsome young lover, Harry Thrall, in a scheme to anticipate part of her inheritance. Just a prank. Can't be a crime if she's in on it, right?
Though pants-on-fire Harry worries that one of them (and he knows who) will end up on Death Row while the other lives it up on Easy Street, he enters into the spirit of the thing. After all, if he's ever going to get to Hollywood, Harry needs money, too.
So off they go, and in come reality and the F.B.I. Lucie finds herself trapped in a closet with a gash in her head, while G-Men dog Harry across the country.
Inspired by the sensational 1934 kidnapping of Mrs. Alice Speed Stoll, All That Money is a fast-moving reverse mystery that takes a rollicking ride with Lucie, Harry, her hapless husband, great relations—and square-jawed Special Agent Joe Albright, sniffing out the trail!
Rex Black builds his comedy club into a global entertainment brand!
In the mid-1980s, Rolling Stone proclaims comedy "the rock and roll of the Eighties," inspiring Rex Black, owner of the Upper East Side dive that's New York's hottest comedy club, to sell stock and brand the zeitgeist for his own!
Rex scouts new clients, builds new clubs, recruits Wall Street titan Siggy Brewster to handle an IPO, appeases his Mafioso landlord (without paying the rent), pitches private placements in Tuxedo Park and plays chicken with Madonna in a Central Park running lane. His wife Perri helps Rex chase his dreams, as do Ashley, his blue-blooded club booker; his assistant, Michael, and Michael's partner, bar manager Conor; and irrepressible Joey (A&R, for the empire's music side). Circling them, her fin hardly breaking the waves, sniffing for the blood she senses will soon dye the water—desperate for her break—is comedian Rosetta Stone.
Fast and funny, incisive and heartfelt, Good People plumbs the American appetite to sum up an era of greed and surreal ambition.
Steven Key Meyers was born on a farm on the western slope of Colorado and lives in darkest Indiana. He is at work on a new novel, Family Romance.
Waiting for Zika?
Beguile the time by reading Meyers' play about human beings and epidemics, A Journal of the Plague Year, which adapts both of Daniel Defoe's plague books, his classic of the same name and his rare and little-known Due Preparations for the Plague.