Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Return of the Player

by Michael Tolkin

The sequel to the Hollywood classic The Player, and a satire on power, wealth, and family in the twenty-first century.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date July 16, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4302-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 256
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4748-7
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

Published to great acclaim and adapted into a celebrated movie by Robert Altman, The Player defined the new Hollywood and became a cult classic.

In The Return of the Player, it’s fifteen years later and film executive Griffin Mill is back. After getting away with murder, Griffin has risen up the ranks of the studio—but not to the top. Now he wants out. Hollywood has changed. The business has peaked; box office is down. Griffin is convinced that Hollywood is dying because the world is dying.

Griffin needs a safe haven, a private island somewhere in the South Pacific with an airstrip and high ground. But his life has become expensive. As the novel opens, Griffin is broke, down to his last $6 million. He has one last desperate plan, to quit the studio and convince Phil Ginsberg, an almost billionaire who aspires to “really savage wealth,” to become his partner.

Ginsberg and his partner, Gunther Hitt, take the bait. They see the potential in Griffin, a master of stories, and hire him to write one starring their money. It looks like Griffin’s dream is on track, but while his ideas percolate, his personal life is falling apart. He is impotent and allergic to Viagra. His second marriage is broken, perhaps permanently, and he’s beginning to think he shouldn’t have divorced his first wife. Child Services is threatening to put his daughter into protective custody after his wife beats her in public. And if that’s not enough, Griffin even has to commit another murder when his plan nearly collapses.

With The Return of the Player, his fourth novel, Tolkin again delivers a brilliant, incisive portrait of contemporary society gone out of control. But as the Player says, “Happy endings. Always happy endings.”

Tags Literary

Praise

“Poor Griffin Mill—once a mover in Los Angeles—is down to his last six million dollars, and that isn’t the worst of it in Tolkin’s sharply observed sequel to The Player. Tolkin’s still got a firm hold on Tinseltown’s fluttery pulse.” —People (Critic’s Choice)

“Tolkin remains impressive as a scorched-earth social satirist.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Griffin Mill, the anti-hero of The Player, is back and amorally fascinating as ever in The Return of Player, Tolkin’s new novel. A sharply drawn and unsettling meditation on America after Sept. 11, 2001, with few shibboleths left untouched.” —K. Kaufmann, The Desert Sun

“Sharply observed and skillfully portrayed . . . Entertaining black comedy set in the surreal world of present-day Hollywood.” —Bookreporter.com

“Lively and freshly biting. . . . Satire is a thing of its time, and of the moment, and The Return of the Player, with its gimlet eye on today’s spiritual weariness and cash frenzy, is very much a novel of this time and this moment.” —David Walton, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“A deeply cynical, admirably intelligent, often hilarious dark comedy that sustains its tone until its resolution.” —The Houston Chronicle

“[Tolkin] serves up meditations on truth and faith and love, honor and God and guilt. He and Griffin seem to have found God, but they haven’t lost their sense of humor.” —Veronique de Turenne, NPR’s Day to Day

“A wicked fever dream of a novel.” —Tom Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle

“Ambitious. . . . [Tolkin] utterly captures the most salient quality of life in Hollywood: the bowel-shaking fear that underlies everything.” —Seth Greenland, Los Angeles Times

“Tolkin’s impressive intelligence and comic gifts make this story worthy of recommendation.” —Houston Chronicle

“The finest novel of Hollywood since The Last Tycoon. I loved it and when I wasn’t laughing aloud, I was rereading it, gasping at the athletics and soul of the thing.” —Jon Robin Baitz, author of The Paris Letter

“How often are you reduced to openmouthed wonder when reading a novel? Not often? Maybe never? Well, here it is. Tolkin did it.” —Stephen Gaghan, Academy Award-winning writer of Traffic and director of Syriana

“By far the widest-ranging novel of Tolkin’s four-book career . . . Tolkin’s most fully realized world yet.” —Todd Peterson, Pages

“Heartfelt and cynical, a powerful dark comedy that transcends . . . Hollywood satire.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“At once funny, absurd, and hopeful, The Return of the Player is, above all, surprising.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Tolkin’s understated style and over-the-top characters continue to amaze. Only in Hollywood could this bizarre tragicomedy seem even remotely plausible. Recommended for collections with readers lusting for the lives of the rich and famous.” —Library Journal

“Grotesque and hilarious.” —Los Angeles Magazine

“Tolkin’s not just a brilliant social satirist—of Hollywood and the spiritual cravings of its sharkish millionaires; of chilling upper-echelon marriage, adultery and childrearing rites—he’s also a rollicking and hilarious writer. Though just as you’re admiring the hairpin turns of his sentences or his way with a barb, you realize you’ve left the comforts of satire and are in the midst of big existential questions and that Tolkin is a pretty serious guy.” —Laura Kipnis, author of Against Love, a Polemic

“Tolkin offers another smart, slick look at life in Hollywood . . . Tolkin delivers a crisp, stylish sequel with this fast-paced novel.” —Julie Hale, Bookpage

“Tolkin’s film executive from The Player, Griffin Mill, is back in a surgically funny novel that’s like attending a literary version of Fight Club, where the savage beating of Hollywood culture by one of its own is the main event. Tolkin is able to masterfully describe and destroy the entertainment industry in the same scene. It violates the first rule of Fight Club, but I’ll be talking about The Return of The Player with everyone I know.” —Geoffrey B. Jennings, Rainy Day Books, Fairway, KS, Book Sense quote

Awards

A Book Sense Selection

Excerpt

Griffin Mill was broke, he was down to his last six million dollars. No one knew he was ruined–not Lisa, his wife; not June, his first wife; not even his lawyer—but the $3 million in investments that he made in the late 1990s (on the advice of his business manager, convinced of a permanent new economy charged by an expansion of wealth made possible by technology), having reached $22 million in February of 2001, were now barely doubled; and what might have been $25 million—if the Studio’s stock had once again reached $80, and he could have exercised his option for a half-million shares at $30—was now gone forever, because the parent company had made a stupid merger, box office was down, it would never return, and the stock hadn’t seen better than $17 in five years. He owed June and their two children, Ethan and Jessa, $300,000 a year out of his salary of $1.5 million before taxes, but since his income after taxes was barely $750,000 a year, that left him only $450,000 to spend after the alimony. He paid two mortgages.

If he sold his house with Lisa he might clear a million, but where would they go? The distress of his situation made him impotent, and he was allergic to Viagra.

It was Griffin’s impotence and depression that had sent Lisa to a divorce lawyer, who asked her to secretly make copies of Griffin’s financial statements. Griffin, who loved his second wife and believed in the strength of their marriage much as he once believed in the value of Global Crossing (high of $61, low of zero), had never established a way of hiding his assets, and his prenuptial agreement with Lisa was generous, so it was a shock to her when the lawyer wrote some numbers on a paper and showed her how she could not afford a divorce, since her share of the stock would be less than $5 million, which, invested at what the lawyer suggested should be a conservative 3 percent, would generate about $150,000 a year. She might win more stock after a lawsuit, but even with $300,000 before taxes, she would bump around in coach, collect her own bags, and never again enjoy Christmas in Maui in a suite that cost $1,000 a day. The lawyer advised her to stay with Griffin until he beat her.

“Do you think he will?” she asked.

“Shit happens,” said the lawyer, an expression of resignation so infinitely repulsive to Lisa that in the rebound from the meeting she located some pity for her husband, who in secret carried his financial ruin at the cost of his cock.

The lawyer’s suggestion that she return to work was ridiculous. She had been a bad actress, her talent limited by her reflective intelligence and by a murmur, just next to her conscience, of her mother’s last words, before she had died of lymphoma five years ago, written in her impersonally elegant cursive on hospital stationery, expressing dismay that her bright and gracious daughter would follow a path so pebbled with crushed vanity. Lisa was thirty-seven; she was old. Griffin was fifty-two; he was old.

After the meeting Lisa went to pick up her daughter, Willa, from Children’s Lincoln, the school founded in 1940 by Hollywood Communists sympathetic to the Lincoln Brigade, who set their mission statement on a bronze plaque at the entrance.

During the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939, two thousand eight hundred American volunteers took up arms to defend the Spanish Republic against the fascists and joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The “Lincolns” came from all walks of life and included students, seamen, lumberjacks, and teachers. They established the first racially integrated military unit in United States history.

Children’s Lincoln is dedicated to honoring their selfless example. It is the school’s mandate to raise up children from all backgrounds who will, with dignity and respect, succeed where the Lincoln Brigade failed, for lack of comrades, and fight bravely in the advancing long struggle against Nazism and Fascism.

Well, things change and in 1992, without ceremony, the plaque showed up on the wall behind the manual skills shelf of the library, and though everyone in town now referred to the school as Children’s Mercedes, almost everyone wanted in. The Children’s Lincoln original motto, CHILDREN OF THE WORLD, UNITE! became WHERE ROOTS TAKE WINGS, as common among West Side private elementary schools as SHE GOT THE HOUSE in a yacht basin. Tuition at Children’s Lincoln cost $19,000 a year. None of the school’s fathers were lumberjacks, although a few dressed the part.

Lisa usually sent the housekeeper to pick up Willa, because Griffin’s two children with June Mercator were also, as friends of the school say, in the Lincoln Community, but instead of graduating directly to middle and then upper school at Coldwater Academy, Griffin’s first choice for him, Ethan was now in the eighth grade of a public school program for something called gifted children at the Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City, along with the children of gardeners, auto-body repairmen, public defenders, and the children of the people the public defenders defended. Jessa, though, was still in Children’s Lincoln, a year behind Willa, and June almost always met her at school, and Lisa didn’t like being in the line of cars with her, and there she was, two cars ahead. She saw June look at her in the rearview mirror, and nodded.

Willa, from his second marriage, was twelve years old, seven months older than Jessa, the second child of his first marriage.

Though he still lived with June the year of Willa’s birth, the marriage had already decayed, and it was felt by everybody in town that it was June who betrayed Griffin by getting pregnant when she knew his affair with Lisa was serious. He was still married to June when he bought a house three blocks away and moved in with Lisa.

And their daughter, Jessa, was still in Children’s Lincoln. He had made no promises to June that Jessa would also go to public school. Griffin surprised June by not calling his lawyer to threaten institutionalization for her if she persisted in trying to send Ethan to public school. She expected from Griffin the legal version of a pig screaming to death, but impersonating guilt, he respected her social agony and knew or guessed that she felt naked and covered in bed sores in any room with the wives she held as friends in the years of her marriage, because they had all known the truth about his affair and kept it from her.

Forced by custom to carry the burden of decorum, submitting to the rules, June saw her life twisted by inexplicable geometries while she saw Lisa, at worst, circle Griffin’s needs whorishly as he moved forward in the world. Other than the second wife’s required public demonstration of restrained benevolence and good manners (Sherman, this time sparing Atlanta), whenever the two women faced each other—say, Griffin and Lisa dropping Jessa and Ethan at June’s after a custody weekend, and Lisa is in the car with Griffin and June comes out to the street because she has to remind Griffin of some mundane obligation to the kids, and she’s wearing Griffin’s old sweatpants and Lisa is dressed for something that looks like fun with other adults–June might have burned with the question, What cost does Lisa pay? if she didn’t have the one grand consoling ugly answer: Her rival’s only child was a little bit stupid. No fear that the spawn of Lisa’s sin would humiliate Ethan and Jessa by taking not only their father but also an Ivy League degree and a smooth ride for the duration. Children’s Lincoln would never have accepted such a dull girl without the pull of connection, because Willa was darling but slow and–well, actually, not so darling. Annoying. Willa annoyed the world. Slow shifting eyes and a crinkle of disgust around her perfect little nose made folks happy to hate her. Other kids avoided her, and without the Chil­dren’s Lincoln’s rule that every child in the class must invite every other child in the class to every birthday party, none of them would have given her three seconds out of school. Behind her face, the only part of her body or spirit remotely enviable about her, Willa’s tongue knocked against her palate, and when she spoke quickly, in one of her frequent rages, the words died in her mouth like a gasping fish slapping the wet floor of a canoe.

June knew that Lisa did not love her own daughter, and worse—or better—June knew that Lisa preferred Jessa, in part because a cruel God had impressed Jessa’s face with his opinion of the father and his crimes, dredging from Griffin’s genetic history the loutish mug of a drunk peasant in the corner of a Brueghel, eyes forced nickel-thin by freckled porky cheeks. What an awful deity, to give the stupid one the look of intelligence, and the brilliant one the look of low brainpower, capable of nothing more than dung-hill feral greed. In the mirror, each saw the face the other deserved.

Jessa Mill was a strange child. With a fraudulent amiability, she accepted Lisa’s fussy affections, because if she rejected Lisa her father would blame June. Her favorite phrase in the universe was “Instant Messenger.” She wanted to start a band called The Instant Messengers of Death. From the murderous current of the age, she attracted drifting thoughts of assassination.

June did not know this about her, but neither did Lisa. No one knew much about her.

About Ethan, June knew that Ethan hated Lisa only from loyalty to his own mother, and she told him not to say how much he hated the weekends when he left his mother alone while he and Jessa stayed at their father’s hated house.

And Griffin, always difficult to read, probably knew all of this better than she did and had traded Ethan for Jessa, since he needed at least one child in the school to use as a tool for his ambitions in Hollywood. Griffin was on the board of Children’s Lincoln, where an active role in the parent community served as another front in the battle to stay alive in Hollywood. As chairman of the school’s annual fund-raising dinner, he had license to call every parent in the school and ask for donations to the two auctions, silent and public. They answered his call with scripts signed by the full casts of a dozen television shows, bottles of important wine, weekends at a spa in Ojai, all-access passes to concerts, the free use of a private jet anywhere in the country, baskets of chocolates, toys, clothes, musical instruments, records, and a catered dinner cooked by three private chefs. He even told June that he took this active role in his elementary school’s fund-raising to put his children at the top of Coldwater’s acceptance list and also to add a social pretext for work. When the acceptance letter from Coldwater arrived, a thick packet of medical forms and appeals for donations, Griffin told her it felt like a film inhaling a hundred million dollars on the first weekend of release, and then said, “Look, this helps with the other stuff too,” meaning it was imposing and sexy and helped purge the scandal that was now as old as his two daughters.

It shocked June that everyone accepted every new social arrangement so long as two of the three adults in any rearrangement consented and one of them was powerful or rich, but she tried hard not to let rage become indignation. There wouldn’t be those biblical admonitions to defend the widow and the orphan if God hadn’t seen the need.

The bell rings in the alley, and the children are called outside.

June wants to resist Griffin’s gloomy expectations of a collapsed world, but the parents she knows are worn out from the burden of children, and she believes that the death of purpose, the death of the family as a unit of physical survival in a nature that yields food only by the work of a group, is the omen of global death, because the parents feel the uselessness of their efforts. No matter how much they tried, the children were awful, even the sweetest. They graduated from high school with the strength of a potato chip, fried and fragile. The narrow desperate ambition for their children to get into Brown and Stanford was proof to June that Griffin was right: The panic about the saving power of a degree from the Ivy League was the canary in the mine shaft, the best evidence of the human species’ deep sensitivity to impending extinction. The parents in other countries who raise their children for suicide martyrdom express the same alert recognition. Better for a child to die immediately in the name of a cause than waste away slowly in a world without safe water. Blowing yourself up on a bus on Ben Yehuda Street is an early acceptance to Princeton.

What the divorce lawyer told Lisa made her want to throw up, not so much because of her husband’s financial statements as for the waste of those years in her life when she might have done something smarter than act, when she might have become a healer like her friend Elixa, or a lawyer or a reporter or a social worker or an astronaut or a civil engineer or anything but a bad actress. She wasn’t stupid, as her mother’s ghost reminded her too often, and she might yet give her life a meaning she could look back on with satisfaction when she was old, but . . . but. But what? She thought, I have failed my husband. He left his wife for me, he sacrificed two children for me, he suffers for his new family, and in what way have I given him the consideration a man deserves? In what way have I given up something of myself to him, given the father of my child, whatever my bad thoughts about her, a gift of the pain of my own sacrifice, even the sacrifice of my pride, burnt on the altar of conceit, my disdain for the Hollywood that rejected me, the Hollywood that was personal when it said It’s not personal—in what way can I help bring his focus back to his difficult work, give the man the pleasure he needs? What does he need, another woman or, finally, my ass?

And here comes Willa.

“Hello Wills, get in. Tell me about your day.”

Willa opened the back door, and by the sullen refusal to talk and the disgusted vehemence with which she threw her heavy backpack to the seat Lisa saw the coming tantrum like a squall line beyond the reef.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Willa buckled herself in and said, “They hay me.”

“They hate you,” said Lisa, with emphasis on the t, stupidly trying to correct and, instead, affirming.

“Maaaaaameeee. I cahn helh myseff. Thass why they hay me. Thass why they may funna me.”

No, Lisa wanted to say, they don’t may funna ooh, they just don’t like you, and it has nothing to do with the way you talk because you only flub your words when you don’t get your own way. Speech therapy didn’t help because Willa liked her power; there’s one of her in every class, the spoiled bilingual brat, her two languages English and Baby. In time she might drop the pre-K act to protect her marginal place in the group, but the inner baby of this type never really grows up. Lisa worried for her daughter’s future, especially without a father rich enough to save her from starvation in the world, because she was of that tribe in Hollywood who either rise to the top, with their tantrums excused for their genius, or last about five years before everyone gets sick of them and they’re fired and disappear. Lisa worried that her daughter was nothing more than a pigeon. You never see old pigeons.

She watched Jessa Mill get into June’s car. She wished she knew more about June.

She doesn’t know that June goes to Goth clubs, sometimes alone, sometimes with her hairdresser, and doesn’t tell anyone from real life. She’s forty-two and not so old for the clubs, but the wives of Windsor Square were never Goth, even when they were young, and she keeps her industrial music collection a secret from them. It’s too complicated, she tells herself, to let them see this part of her. She likes the feeling of being a superhero, playing the role of June Mercator Mill as her alter ego. That’s how she feels about her trips to Goth clubs a few nights a month. Her Goth self is wrapped up in a weird blend with Mormonism too, from a forty-five-minute tour of Mormon Square in Salt Lake City, and whatever Judaism she inhales from the Jews around her. She’s not the oldest woman in the club, and the lights are low, and she wears spectral makeup, darker than Siouxsie Sioux, covering the lines around her eyes with delicate gore, so that she looks like the Mistress of the House of Usher after a raven croaking “Nevermore” has blinded her, artfully.

She doesn’t fuck anyone, doesn’t talk to anyone, she just floats until she lands near the DJ’s booth. DJs have a look, a glance that’s ironic, courageous, deliberate, hilarious, and profound, and she likes to humble herself in the aura of what she believes is the DJ’s superior knowledge of life.

She wastes time and makes herself miserable chasing men who are chronosocio appropriate. The men who are the right age for her are mostly creeps. All men without women are creeps, she believes, until they have a woman. They may turn out to be jerks, but that’s a different burden and part of the deal.

And then there was the Mormon afternoon that started when she answered this ad on Match.Com.

veritasexy: 45. Attractive humanoid (I’m told) professional, intelligent, clean (body, not necessarily mind), non-player (looking for “the” relationship), witty/sarcastic sense of humor. I like a wide variety of things, and I am very open-minded (I’ll try anything at least once, and if I like it–I’ll try again!). Will eat just about anything, but preferences are BBQ/Grilling, Mexican, Indian (eastern), Asian and sushi. I like most music (no rap or hip-hop, though). I love to ski. I love to play tennis. I like Maui. I like Milan. I like camping via tent, travel trailer, or Four Seasons hotel. ­Romantic, cuddler, generous. I’m looking for . . . you.

She fell for Veritasexy because he was a Harvard guy and she really wanted someone smart, and she liked the combination of Ivy League and BBQ, sarcasm and generosity; especially that. Her profile at that time had been:

junebug4play: 42. I know better than to look here, or really anywhere for that matter, for love. Instead I look for just really good companionship. Love follows or it doesn’t. And sometimes we don’t want love, we just want release. Like sometimes I just want the release of a good run down a slope in Deer Valley (love the snow there, love the service, hate the prices), sometimes I just need to jog an extra mile in the morning, sometimes I just need good cause to scream and hope the neighbors don’t mind. And sometimes I don’t care what the neighbors think. But I am a single mom, so I have to say that, but I’m also free most weekends, so I have to say that too. If you’re a man with a sexy phone voice, a man who understands what’s going on in the world and can tell me about it, a man who can make me laugh, and a man who lives not too far from where I live (Los Angeles), let’s talk. Let’s even . . . chat?

Everyone would know what she meant by chat. She needed fucking, she wanted holding and cuddling, but she also needed to come, and she didn’t want to jack herself off watching thirty-second porn clips; when she wanted connection with someone, she’d join a chat line on the phone, or pick a guy from Craigslist who lived anywhere in the country, it didn’t matter, trade a few e-mails, then give him a cell-phone number she kept just for e-dates, and if he liked to talk hot, she’d lie in bed with a vibrator in hand and talk about sex. June liked hearing a man come; she liked to hear the way a man, while he’s talking about all the ways he’s going to fuck a woman hard, loses his theatrical aggression as he gratefully accepts the woman’s breath to penetrate his hand, his coming softening his voice. She liked to hear him lose contact with her for the few seconds that he came, didn’t hate him for the depletion of his interest in her, and didn’t mind that she usually couldn’t come until after they finished talking, when she could edit the fantasy she shared with him, make it exactly what she wanted but always keeping the image of a man, somewhere in the United States, maybe a hotel room, maybe alone in his apartment, maybe in his office, working late, holding his cock for her, staining his underwear for her, because of her. She supposed some women beat themselves up about this kind of thing, inscribing their names on the walls and floors of an infinite memorial to the death of spirit by confusion, but the Goth part of her spirit let her off the hook; it was all more of the horror of the world and not so dreadful to feel guilty about, or else, even if she felt suicidal after hanging up the phone, it was just part of the joke.

After a late-afternoon coffee with Veritasexy, then dinner at a barbecue place in the Valley, they talked on the phone about fucking and he invited her to ski in Park City two weekends later. They flew to Utah on a Friday morning after she sent the kids to school. He took a suite for them at the Deer Valley Inn. She skied better than he did, which turned him on, he said, and they smooched on the chair lift. She didn’t like him, but she couldn’t have said why until they were sitting in the hot tub, after skiing but before dinner, and they talked about how hungry they were and he said he was looking forward to a “premium-brand margarita.” A voice in her head, not her mother’s voice but its understudy, said, “You cannot fuck a man who talks about premium-brand margaritas, no matter where he went to school; trust me on this.” But after two margaritas, both premium-label, she fucked him. All the time he was pumping her, forcing himself to fuck harder because the head of his dick was premium-numb, double numb through the condom, she heard herself trying to tell Griffin about this, about what she missed about him, his fucking when he was strong, before Ethan was born, and to her own dismay, for her body’s betrayal of her self-respect, she even came, thinking about Griffin.

In the morning she packed and left Veritasexy, who said, agreeably, “I think you have some issues about intimacy, but if you ever want to see me again I’m there for you.” The earliest flight she could take was at 2 p.m., and with four hours of nothing to do she went to Temple Square, to see the Mormon Temple, which she couldn’t get into because you have to be a Mormon in good standing with the Church. In the plaza before the granite temple, about a dozen girls in long dresses, with name tags on their breasts, stood like a flower shop’s unsold lilies in the last half hour of Good Friday.

A cold wind blew from the Wasatch Mountains, and the girls wore insufficient cardigans. Some of the girls were talking to visitors, some walked backward while they towed the faithful and the curious on a guided tour, and to collect her for the next group, two of them approached June. They were Shifra, from New Zealand, with a high wide forehead and at her hairline a few sad little pimples that acne creams can’t touch, and Puah, from Idaho, a virgin in every way, June was sure of this, and June wanted for herself that quiet faith in chastity and fidelity. This little girl didn’t talk dirty at midnight to men whose faces she would only ever know from their digital profiles.

June followed them, her intellectual curiosity knocked aside by the determination of faith awakened. Jesus resurrected came to America and preached to the lost tribes of Israel. When the Mormon faithful die, each becomes a god of his own world, like the God of this world, this worst of all worlds. And the generosity of our God, who not only gave his only son that we should live but allows us a baptism even when we have died. “If you’re interested,” said Shifra, “you can visit the Mormon genealogy center across the street from Temple Square, where we compile the names of the dead and baptize their souls for eternity.”

Eternity!

June became a secret Mormon, without an official conversion and without study, but the eternity of the soul had never made such sense before, since only the eternity of the soul explains the recurrence of agony. Her soul and not her ego cried out for what Griffin had torn away from her, not physical company but his own soul. If she felt pain, then so must he, because if she was torn, then Griffin was also shredded where their souls once were knit. Hating Griffin, then, was hating part of herself, although she knew how thin was her knowledge of the Mormon God, the Angel Moroni, the gilt figure on top of the Mormon Temple in Los Angeles, pointed toward the building in Salt Lake where she saw the truth revealed.

Her husband’s second marriage confused her, not because he fell in love with someone else but because she now knew that her soul was still married to Griffin, no matter what papers they had signed, no matter what the judge agreed to. She could not marry anyone else because Griffin was her husband. But he was also married to Lisa, and she supposed that Lisa’s soul was also bound to Griffin’s for eternity. They would have plenty of time to talk about this when all three of them were dead.