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Authors: Rick Whitaker

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An Honest Ghost

BOOK: An Honest Ghost
12.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


“He has put the force back into tour de force.“

— John Ashbery

“Whitaker proves that fiction is better than life—more interesting, much more thrilling”

— Edmund White

“Sheer genius…a uniquely gripping read.”

— Jenny McPhee

“An Honest Ghost is brilliantly conceived and brilliantly performed.”

— Adam Phillips

“Whitaker has performed such a work of genius and pushed it ad absurdum”

— Filip Noterdaeme

About the Author

Rick Whitaker is the bestselling author of
Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling
The First Time I Met Frank O’Hara: Reading Gay American Writers
. He is Concerts and Theatre Manager of The Italian Academy at Columbia University, New York.

An Honest Ghost
is also available in full-color illustrated print, black-and-white print, and interactive iBook.

For more information visit

An Honest Ghost, consists entirely of sentences appropriated from over 500 books. Whitaker limited himself to using 300 words per book (in accordance with Fair Use); never taking two sentences together; and never making any changes, even to punctuation. In the iBook version, touching a sentence brings up its original source: a book’s title, author, and page number. The complete list of attributions may be found at the end of the book.


© 2013 copyright by Rick Whitaker

First ebook edition. All rights reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-937543-51-8

Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information please email:
[email protected]

Published by Jaded Ibis Press,
sustainable literature by digital means
™ An imprint of Jaded Ibis Productions, LLC, Seattle, Washington USA

Cover and art by Debra Di Blasi.

This book is available in multiple editions and formats. Visit our website for more information:


David Whitaker

Happiness is an imaginary condition, formerly often attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children, and by children to adults.



I am unpacking my library. I have been able to start work again on my novel. It is growing very slowly. There are limits to what can be said. Life lived by quotations.

You go back into your mind. The subjective universe.

There was an overflow of books on the floor, and on the coffee table I noticed a copy of Simone Weil’s essays. It seemed neither appropriate nor necessary to David that he should get out of bed. “How can you do all that before coffee?” he asked through a yawn. He was twenty-four, and handsome in the way that makes young Englishmen, when they are handsome at all, the handsomest young men in the world.

At the moment, this romance is happy.

David said, “I keep reading about tribes or hordes of peoples who came sweeping out of Central Asia.” My splendid David! My daily recreational activity. “What color were the Huns?” David said.

Our little love affair began one Monday afternoon when I received a telegram from Paris signed, so help me, Madame Marquis.

“Oh! How long shall we have to wait for the resolution of the chord?”

Well! I was dealing with a dangerous man who at any moment might burst into a selection from “The Paul McCartney Songbook.” He was really sexy though; he was like a vast swimming pool I wanted to dive right into. I wrote in my notebook that meeting him I felt like Hazlitt meeting Coleridge for the first time: bowled over by his warmth and energy. There was something rather “doggy,” rather smart, rather ‘cute and shrewd, and something warm, and something slightly contemptible about him. To be in his company, to hold his hand, to feel his large fingers tighten round my own, made me feel very humble, very fortunate, very chosen. Sometimes he purred. He often pretended he was eating me. The action signaled his love of the illicit, his need to infect the scene with the fumes of a mésaliance.

I could spare him the time as my affairs were, surprisingly, rather stagnant at the moment. I would lie in bed every morning reading Cicero. I have never married, I have always lived quietly, and, apart from my interest in dahlias, I have no hobby. A few years ago I was a lawyer in Paris and, indeed, a rather well-known lawyer. I lived in the most serene, most chaste of surroundings. It was very agreeable in the springtime, with the chestnuts in the Champs Élysées in bloom and the light in the streets so gay. These arrangements turned me into a penniless dandy. Few men have the divine grace of cosmopolitanism in its entirety; but all can acquire it in different degrees. Occasionally I had nightmares, but in those days just about everybody had nightmares from time to time, though some more often than others.

David frowned. He was not well: he was a walking horror. It had been a difficult summer. When his friends asked what was going on, he remained silent or replied with some quote from his beloved Oscar Wilde, but even his characteristic wit had grown sluggish, and those quips, delivered so despondently, provoked only puzzlement and pity. His irony, intended to arouse sympathy, backfired. Prodded by his conscience, he began to generalize. Once, when I asked him how he was doing, he said he was always terrified. His rage had no one cause, not that he could discover, but bubbled up, a poisonous vapour, out of a mess of boiling emotions. The most innocent-seeming stranger, or even someone he thought he knew, might suddenly by a look, a word, deliver the secret message: beware. Cops always questioned him, though he never did anything wrong.

His early childhood was happy, but when he was six his parents separated and three years later his mother married a man whom her son would come to loathe. He was a balding, somewhat overweight, nervous man in his early forties. He died of a brain tumor in 1999. He lived a brief, passionate, unhappy life. Shall I describe the arrangements of their home life at this time? I found it hard at first to disguise the contempt which they inspired in me, but gradually I became accustomed to their way of life.

His mother had mental problems. After one first disappointment she had taken leave of the major emotions. She attended to the nearest matter at hand, no matter how trivial it was. The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon. She could be mistaken for a drag queen. She drank, she aged, she suffered terribly from her dissipations. Her clothes seemed to be all darts and buttons fastened mostly to show what they could not entirely contain. She had a fancy for tiny ivory or jade elephants; she said they were luck; she left a trail of tiny elephants wherever she went; and she went hurriedly and gasping. Her family, her husbands, her son, would have crushed any other woman I have ever known. David admires her prodigiously; he thinks her so good that she will be able to get him into heaven, however naughty he is.

How tender people are towards oppressors and how inexorable towards the oppressed!

“I’m rough and tough,” she said.

One often makes a remark and only later sees how true it is.

“What a sweet pair of fairies you guys are,” she said. Her voice was as hypnotic as a tom-tom, and as monotonous. I will not be commanded, she thought.

David leaned my way to fix me with a sad-eyed look. He was stretched out on his little mattress, and I noticed he had exchanged his dinner jacket for an embroidered kimono and was displaying the affected ease of the opium smoker. He puts on a queer smile. If there is mésalliance, as for the purists there must be, it was there from the start.

Though he was both rich and young, he knew how to control his passions. Even more commendable was his attitude to women, for he never pretended to scorn them and never boasted of his conquests. Very quickly, he discovered all the tricks of love: but being such a natural at them, he became entangled in the very love that caused them.

He talked incessantly about himself, yet was such good company that one could listen to the story of his ague forever. He was adequately vicious to stand apart from the rest of the world without being aggressive or disagreeable, save on rare occasions. Flushed with his impassioned gibberish he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization. I’ve been told so often that I would be helpless without him that I am slightly inclined to believe it, but only slightly.

David recalled dimly that he was getting drunk again, as usual, he reasoned, to escape. Not that there was much happiness in a life of pleasure. That is how it is: life, tight-buttoned life, fits him ill, making him too much aware of himself and what he glumly takes to be his unalterable littleness of spirit. He spent his life fleeing boredom, and he had no real goal beyond that.

A bell beat faintly very far away.

Although none of the rules for becoming more alive is valid, it is healthy to keep on formulating them. I am interested in wisdom. But it could hardly be otherwise. Some of my best friends are pedants.

It is impossible to return to the state of mind in which these sentences originated. Today is not like yesterday.

I swear I have rarely felt saner. But what kind of soundness is sanity? We long for a little weakness, darkness, and fiction, for the crowded, the smut, the closeness and malice of things. Life and death and death and life.

I believe in doing what I can, in crying when I must, in laughing when I choose. My life is all downhill. I live in my mind. (Like Holden Caulfield, I don’t know exactly what I mean, but I mean it.)

All of us, even when we think we have noted every tiny detail, resort to set pieces which have already been staged often enough by others. The Zen masters have the saying, “Examine the living words and not the dead ones.”

All work is the avoidance of harder work.

Shall we make war or shall we make peace?

The story that I am about to tell, a story born in doubt and perplexity, has only the misfortune (some call it the fortune) of being true: it was recorded by the hands of honorable people and reliable witnesses. To say that the story is true is by now a convention of every fantastic tale; mine, nevertheless, is true.

This is my own story, told in different voices. Not my usual method of composition.


Day before yesterday was my birthday and I spent most of the evening sitting outdoors in the half moonlight informing two Brazilian intellectuals why they really should read Edmund Wilson, say, instead of Henry Miller, to get an adequate idea of U.S. letters. I got drunk, for the first time in ages I was really drunk again. I wasn’t good for much at the age of forty, but I could drink bourbon and I knew which bourbon I liked and how I liked it. That was about it. Soon I’d be too old to attract anyone.

I took a terrace walk and saw the most brilliant falling star—I always make the same wish: Love. A black man was waving his arms and vociferating. The world to us was a perverse bestial and perverse philosophical plague and repulsive operetta. A part of drunkenness is the thinking that oneself is not sober. I didn’t want to know what I was doing. I was amazed and confused. I was lost. Loneliness rose to the surface.

When I got home that night, I mean barely inside the door of my apartment, I heard these horrendous clunk-clunk-clunk footsteps coming up the stairs. A sound of hobnailed boots? Who comes here? Sometimes a venturesome sailor would stumble in, scary but irresistible. (O the weakness of human reason!) Still, the only thing worse than not getting it any more would be not wanting it any more.


A minute later, a little kid appeared dragging behind him a small sailboat on wheels. I blushed intensely. Moving, as I do, in what would kindly be called artistic circles, children are an infrequent occurrence.

BOOK: An Honest Ghost
12.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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