James Lasdun It's Beginning to Hurt

ISBN 13: 9780099512325

It's Beginning to Hurt

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9780099512325: It's Beginning to Hurt

In sharply evoked settings that range from the wilds of Northern Greece to the beaches of Cape Cod, these intensely dramatic tales chart the metamorphoses of their characters as they fall prey to the gamut of human passions. The lives in them seethe with love, hate, desire, fear, tender corruption and cruel idealism. They rise to unexpected heights of decency, stumble into comic or tragic folly, they throw themselves open to lust, longing, paranoia - but they are always recognisably, illuminatingly, our lives. Winner of the BBC National Short Story Award.

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About the Author:

James Lasdun's books include The Horned Man and Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. He teaches creative writing at Columbia University and reviews regularly for the Guardian. His work has been filmed by Bernardo Bertolucci (Besieged) and he co-wrote the films Sunday, which won Best Feature and Best Screenplay awards at Sundance, and Signs and Wonders, starring Charlotte Rampling and Stellan Skarsgard.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

AN ANXIOUS MANJoseph Nagel slumped forward, head in hands.“My God,” he groaned.Elise snapped off the car radio.“Calm down, Joseph.”“That’s four straight days since we got here.”“Joseph, please.”“What do you think we’re down now? Sixty? Eighty thousand?”“It’ll come back.”“We should have sold everything after the first twenty. That would have been an acceptable loss. Given that we were too stupid to sell when we were actually ahead—”Joseph felt the petulant note in his voice, told himself to shut up, and plunged on. “I did say we should get out, didn’t I? Frankly it was irresponsible committing all that money”—shut up, shut up—“not to mention the unseemliness of buying in when you did—” oh God ...His wife spoke icily. “I didn’t hear you complain when we were ahead.”“All right, but that’s not the point. The point is ...”“What?”Her face had tightened angrily on itself, all line and bone.“The point is ...” But he had lost his train of thought and sat blinking, walled in a thick grief that seemed for a moment unaccounted for by money or anything else he could put his finger on.Elise got out of the car.“Let’s go for a swim, shall we, Darcy?”She opened the rear door for their daughter and led her away.Glumly, Joseph watched them walk hand in hand down through the scrub oaks and pines to the sandy edge of the kettle pond.He gathered the two bags from their shopping expedition into his lap but remained in the car, heavily immobile.Money ... For the first time in their lives they had some capital. It had come from the sale of an apartment Elise had inherited, and it had aroused volatile forces in their household. Though not a vast amount—under a quarter of a million dollars after estate taxes—it was large enough, if considered a stake rather than a nest egg, to form the basis for a dream of real riches, and Joseph had found himself unexpectedly susceptible to this dream. The money he made as a dealer in antique prints and furniture was enough, combined with Elise’s income from occasional Web design jobs, to keep them in modest comfort—two cars, an old brick house in Aurelia with lilac bushes and a grape arbor, the yearly trip up here to the Cape—but there wasn’t much left over for Darcy’s college fund, let alone their own retirement. In the past such matters hadn’t troubled him greatly, but with the advent of Elise’s inheritance he had felt suddenly awoken into new and urgent responsibilities. At their age they shouldn’t be worrying about how to pay for medical coverage every year, should they? Or debating whether they could afford the dental and eye care package too? And wasn’t it about time they built a studio so that Elise could concentrate on her painting?The more he considered these things, the more necessary, as opposed to merely desirable, they had seemed, until he began to think that to go on much longer without them would be to accept failure, a marginal existence that would doubtless grow more pinched as time went by and end in squalor.After probate had cleared and Elise had sold the apartment, they had gone to a man on Wall Street, a money manager who didn’t as a rule handle accounts of less than a million dollars but who, as a special favor to the mutual acquaintance who had recommended him, had agreed to consider allowing the Nagels to invest their capital in one of his funds.Morton Dowell, the man’s name was. Gazing out at the pond glittering through the pines, Joseph recalled him vividly: a tanned, smiling, sapphire-eyed man in a striped shirt with white collar and cuffs and a pair of elasticized silver sleeve links circling his arms.A young assistant, balding and grave, had shown them into Dowell’s cherry-paneled bower overlooking Governors Island. There, sunk in dimpled leather armchairs, Joseph and Elise had listened to Dowell muse in an English-accented drawl on his “extraordinary run of good luck” these past twenty years, inclining his head in modest disavowal when the assistant murmured that he could think of a better word for it than “luck,” while casually evoking image after image of the transformations he had wrought upon his clients’ lives and hinting casually at the special intimacies within the higher circles of finance that had enabled him to accomplish these transformations.“I think it’s just so much fun to help people attain the things they want from life,” he had said, “be it a yacht or a house on St. Bart’s or a Steinway for their musical child ...”Joseph had listened, mesmerized, hardly daring to hope that this mighty personage would consent to sprinkle his magic upon their modest capital. He was almost overcome with gratitude when at the end of the meeting Dowell appeared to have decided they would make acceptable clients, sending his assistant to fetch his Sovereign Mutual Fund prospectus for them to take home.“What a creep,” Elise had murmured as they waited for the elevator outside. “I wouldn’t leave him in a room with Darcy’s piggy bank.”Stunned, Joseph had opened his mouth to defend the man but at once found himself hesitating. Perhaps she was right ... He knew himself to be a poor judge of people. He, who could detect the most skillfully faked Mission desk or Federal-era sleigh bed merely by standing in its presence for a moment, was less sure of himself when it came to human beings. He tended to like them on principle, but his sense of what they were, essentially, was vague, unstable, qualities he suspected might be linked to some corresponding instability in himself. Whereas Elise, who had little interest in material things (and who had been altogether less unsettled by her inheritance than he had), took a keen, if somewhat detached, interest in other people and was shrewd at assessing them.Even as their elevator began descending from Dowell’s office, Joseph had found his sense of the man beginning to falter. And by the time they got home it had reversed itself entirely. Of course, he had thought, picturing the man’s tanned smile and sparkling armbands again, what an obvious phony! A reptile! He shuddered to think how easily he had been taken in.“You know what? You should invest the money yourself,” he had told Elise.“That had crossed my mind.”“You should do it, Elise! It can’t be that hard.” He was brimming with sudden enthusiasm for the idea.“Perhaps I will give it a try.”“You should! You have good instincts. That’s all that matters. These money managers are just guessing like anyone else. You’d be as good as any of them.”And this in fact had appeared to be the case. After biding her time for several weeks, Elise had made her move with an audacity that stunned him. It was right after the September 11 attacks, when the shell-shocked markets reopened. Over ten days, as the Dow reeled and staggered, she bought and bought and bought, icily resolute while Joseph flailed around her, wrenched between his fearful certainty that the entire capitalist system was about to collapse, his guilty terror of being punished by the gods for attempting to profit from disaster, and his rising excitement, as the tide turned and he could see, on the Schwab Web page over his wife’s shoulder, the figure in the Total Gain column swelling day after day in exuberant vindication of her instincts. An immense contentment had filled him. Thank God she had kept the money out of that fiend Dowell’s clutches!But then the tide had turned again. The number that had been growing so rapidly in the Total Gain column, putting out a third, a fourth, then a fifth figure, like a ship unfurling sails in the great wind of prosperity that had seemed set to blow once again across America, had slowed to a halt, lowered its sails one by one, and then, terrifyingly, had begun to sink. And suddenly Elise’s shrewdness, the innate financial acumen he had attributed to her, had begun to look like nothing more than beginner’s luck, while in place of his contentment, a mass of anxieties began teeming inside him ...How exhausting it all was. How he hated it! It was as though, in investing the money, Elise had unwittingly attached him by invisible filaments to some vast, seething collective psyche that never rested. Having paid no attention to financial matters before, he now appeared to be enslaved by them. When the Dow or NASDAQ went down, he was dragged down with them, unable to enjoy a beautiful day, a good meal, or even his nightly game of checkers with his daughter. Almost worse, on the rare occasions when the indices went up, a weird stupor of happiness would seize him, no matter what awful things might be going on around him. And more than just his mood, the management of his entire sense of reality seemed to have been handed over to the markets. Glimpsing in the Times business section (pages that would formerly have gone straight into the recycling bin) an article on mutual funds bucking the downward trend, he had seen Morton Dowell’s Sovereign Fund among the lucky few and felt suddenly like a fool for having allowed what at once seemed an act of astoundingly poor judgment to steer him away from that sterling, agile man ...God! All that and the nightmarish discovery that you could never get out once you were in anyway, couldn’t s...

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