Sep '03 [Home]


Nick Fowler's A Thing (or Two) About Curtis and Camilla:

A Dial Tone Existence—On Broadband

by Susan Scutti

Pantheon/Random House, 2002;
416 pp. $24.95 ISBN: 0375421602
(Paperback 2003); 398 pp.

. . .

An urban libretto about love and loss, A Thing (or Two) About Curtis and Camilla tells the story of an aspiring rock star who breaks his own rule:

          I'd actually promised myself I wasn't going to wish myself on anyone (house pets included) until I'd achieved some Success.

When Curtis Birnbaum spots Camilla Fell walking her "dignified dachshund" on Sullivan Street:

          I feared she'd reduce me to something Neanderthal… disturb all those awful urges loitering in my genes like a billion hydrophobic rottweilers. I also felt there would've been something overly scripted if I, the mid-thirtyish hipster with carefully disheveled (and thinning) hair, calculated weekend stubble, and studied rock star blasé, had smiled at the nymphet I'd sighted, then walked hungrily toward her, while we both did SoHo.
          But then I figured anyone who owned that doggy had to have a heart.

So begins the fall. After a glorious respite from his love-less life, Curtis helplessly accepts Camilla's decision to walk away from him. Inevitably, he crumbles and enters the worst post-break-up-bottoming-out ever recorded.

The language of the novel is alive and relentlessly spry. Fowler mixes classic fictional structure with pop idiom, then samples e-mail-speak and web-stylings for added spark. (Expect to find footnotes, typeface changes, descriptive drawings and thumbnail photos within these pages.) Through use of all, Fowler underpins tragedy with comedy and portrays a range of moods in between, all the while accurately conveying the dial tone existence of a life without passion.

True to life, Curtis decides to transform himself into exactly what Camilla needs… after she leaves him. He bases his make-over on her parting assessment of what went wrong between them:  he didn't make her feel "safe." Although he disagrees (although he's not even sure what she meant), he strives, with tremendous ardor, to win her back. Yet, it quickly becomes excruciatingly apparent to his best friend Gary as well as Little Green, the young girl who lives across the hall—though never to him—that Camilla ain't coming back.

This is one reason the novel is remarkable. You'll find it nothing short of courageous that someone has fessed-up (with humor, no less) to the embarrassments, comic mishaps and emotional spikes incited by a failed love affair. Reading A Thing (or Two)… is strangely healing. You will remember what drove you to the edge of your personal love-cliff and, after finishing the novel, you may no longer consider your dive a foolish thing.

Along with its primary love story plot, an exploration of fatherhood emerges as a leitmotif. In the course of his odyssey, Curtis comes to appreciate the value of nurturing. Although he fails in his efforts to re-parent his shattered girlfriend Camilla, ultimately Curtis does manage to father his own broken spirit and, in a brief coda, Little Green. Deftly, Fowler extends his composition by nodding to his various literary fathers:  Salinger, Nabokov, and DeLillo, among them.

His taste is faultless. You will probably get most, if not all, of his references despite the wide range from classic literature to indy rock. Rarely does the novel trip up. An occasional minor characterization screams when it might murmur. An odd passage strains. These are quibbles. A Thing (or Two)… will inspire you to think, to feel, to learn. Best of all, it will make you LOL.