I was surprised to find Seth Greenland’s novel on the Europa Editions list. They’re the publishers responsible for publishing the Elena Ferrante novels which took the literati Twitterati by storm last year and it’s still raging, although rhapsodising would be a better word. I’d associated them with fiction in translation but I see that at least one of Greenland’s previous novels is also on their list. He was once a screenwriter for HBO and it was that, and the withered red rose on its cover suggesting a particular kind of love story, which made me want to read it. It’s the story of Jeremy Best, a thirty-three-year-old lawyer who moonlights as a poet, and Spaulding Simonson, the nineteen-year-old daughter of his boss, who’s looking for a patron in the arts.
Jeremy specialises in preparing wealthy clients’ wills. He’s become an expert over the past five years, entertaining hopes of becoming a partner. He’s also a published poet in a small way, hiding his work behind a pseudonym, carefully keeping it under wraps from both colleagues and clients. The day that Spaulding appears in his doorway, he’s a little preoccupied, still disturbed from a vivid nightmare and a little disconcerted by the lump he found when showering. Spaulding, attractive and a little flirtatious – ‘a perfectly designed temptation’ – could well spell trouble but Jeremy’s learned to compartmentalise his life, including his emotions. Spaulding, however, is not there to offer temptation. She’s done her research, knows that Jeremy is also Jinx Bell and wants to get to know someone who may be able to guide her into the poetry world. Still medicated after a spell in a mental hospital, Spaulding seems at first to be the typical product of rich, several times divorced parents but such quick judgement would be a mistake. Mismatched as they are, these two are the subject of Greenland’s witty love story, told in Jeremy and Spaulding’s alternating narratives.
The stratospherically rich aren’t usually my cup of tea – in fiction or otherwise – and although Jeremy and Spaulding aren’t in that league they’re undeniably both privileged and moneyed. Jeremy is the son of a gay lawyer whose portrait by Andy Warhol he’s inherited; Spaulding, although constantly told she needs a plan by her father, manages perfectly well without a job. Such is Greenland’s skill with characterisation that as their story develops so do their characters until our sympathies are fully engaged. Spaulding and Jeremy’s misconceptions about each other are handled expertly in their separate narratives and Greenland has a knack for a well turned phrase. It’s very funny in places but what begins as a light comedy acquires a dark edge giving it a bite which lifts it well above the sentimental. Time to check out those other Greenland novels, I think.