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American BanjoThe following is a passage from my novel American Banjo, a story about several generations of an aristocratic American family. It was released earlier this year on Amazon.com.

From the diary of Sandra Eccles:

There is a simple elegance to life. There is a simple elegance to a good mystery. You jump on a ship looking for adventure, looking for drama, looking for meaning. And just as you find the object of your desire, your desire evaporates. I seek drama, and I find drama.

I think of Occam’s razor; the simplest explanation is the best one. The simplest way to write a sentence is the best way.

I wonder if I’m mature enough to live my life simply. I start to think of my father. I hate to think that he might have been right. That my defiance was a play I didn’t understand, and now that I do, the defiance means nothing. But you negotiate the paths to wisdom only through action, through praxis; you may climb a mountain only to find there is no longer a mountain to see. That is mountains. And that is philosophy. The journey was the thing. It was good you made the journey. But the wisdom isn’t what you found. The wisdom came from knowing you had to look.

I think about this after returning home and gazing upon the sleeping, topless figure of the woman who tried to steal money from me—the woman who is now my wife. How we got here is not important. I’ve walked through different rooms of life with her and the room we started in has been demolished. I can no longer know the me before Sieglinde. Nor care about who she was before or who I was.

She wasn’t a thief as I found her. She was asleep. People who sleep are innocent.

I had seen Priscilla earlier that day. Priscilla, the doyenne of my scene, the brilliant lawyer who had helped establish the intellectual underpinnings of “judicial interpretation as violence,” the woman who rebelled through textures, seemed to have become sweet on me … as a mother or something more.

“I have to say, when you were at the party the other night without Sieglinde, I began to worry.”

“About?”

“You two have been together for what … 18 months?”

“Two years.”

“What do you talk about?”

“It was a relationship born in a crisis. We emerged from that together.”

“Crisis isn’t a value.”

Priscilla pushed my hair back where she thought she saw a bruise or something. I pulled away. Evidently, she’d heard things.

“Is this an intervention?”

“I’ve come to care about you, Sandra. You’re focused. You’re ambitious. You hurt Sieglinde with a curt remark and don’t notice. She watches you talking to other women.”

“I can’t think about that. This is my book. My career. I won’t be stopped.”

“But she’s your lover. What if she wanted you to stop? For a baby, maybe.”

“I can’t be held back by that.”

“So leave her.”

I snorted a bit.

“I can’t do that either.”

Priscilla, wiser than anybody I’d ever met, waited for an explanation as she sipped her green tea.

“I can’t do it because she was the one who made me what I am. She brought me out.”

“Which makes her not even as important as your mother, who you probably wouldn’t respect anywhere near as much. You really feel as if you owe her your life? The way a child owes something to a parent?”

“Yes, a little.”

“Well, sooner or later, a child can’t owe something to a parent. She must know that what a parent gives to a child besides life is something more precious. Eventually, the parent must give that child freedom. That’s part of the contract.”

“In what law? Not the Torah?”

“In life. In love. You can’t sacrifice yourself for Sieglinde. You don’t owe her your soul. You don’t owe that to anybody.”

“Stop. I won’t do it. I won’t cut her loose.”

She didn’t talk for a long time, then finally …

“There are other people who want you,” Priscilla said. “Women who want to be with you. Who see your value. You don’t have to compromise. I found out a long time ago, even before I left my husband, what it means to be a whole person.”

“And what’s that?”

“Nobody can take on the responsibility of making you happy. And you can’t take on the responsibility of making somebody else happy. It’s too much to ask. And if you do, you’re not really allowing them to live up to being fully human.”

I drank tea and listened, and she pushed my hair back again.

“Cut her loose.”

Copyright 2012.

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American BanjoI have just released my sixth novel, American Banjo, as an e-book on Amazon.com. I plan to release the novel in paperback version, hopefully later this year, along with all my other novels.

The plot: An heirloom Federal-style banjo clock build in 1804 is passed down through eight generations of a secretive family of ultra-high-net-worth Americans. Built shortly after the American Revolution, it has come to mean something different to all its holders. To Sandra Eccles, one of the family’s daughters, the clock may prove the guilt or innocence of not only a few founding fathers, but also her storied grandfather, who made munitions in World War II. His possession of a painting that might have been stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis leads Sandra to try to uncover a puzzling skein of relationships and help her determine how good her forebears really were and what they were after.

I piece together the story line from various “diaries” of the characters, a cast from different times and places in American history, whose dreams and aspirations and ethics are different, even though the ways they aspire are somehow the same.

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