In the early 1990s, trying to avoid the sun’s accusatory glare, I could often be found hiding inside the public library of Glendale, California. One day, shuffling through its stacks, I spotted the New York Times Index, whose hardbound volumes occupied a shelf’s entire row. I remember thinking, “That’s convenient.” Who knew such a resource existed?
That index provided two abstracts concerning family members. The first, from 1937, about my grandfather, contained the startling keyword of “suicide.” The second, from 1974, about my uncle, offered this curious instruction: “See JFK Jr.” I filled out a slip requesting the microfilm, threaded it into a quaint apparatus, and after reading the two brief articles the writer in me thought, “If I could somehow capture the bleak irony and pathos of these pieces.”
Cut to almost thirty years later. I’ve written a novel informed by the articles serving as points of departure for a work of the imagination. The book is the portrait of a doorman. I have worked as a doorman. (So did my uncles, and my brother.) Some of the story is set in the public housing projects of Chelsea where I grew up. Subject matter includes alcoholism, and like many others I have watched family members and friends suffer the horrific, sometimes fatal consequences of addiction.
Is it autobiographical? The most accurate answer might be no-and-yes. There is a personal spot from which to compose, unhindered by a constraining loyalty to fact. I do draw on my own life, naturally, and the life of my father, but finally the book’s protagonist stands alone. That’s the hope, anyway, for the story of Cornelius Sky to have become its own thing, true to itself.