In Pure Cosmos Club, artist-on-the-margins Paul and his dog Blanche navigate the absurdities of contemporary art and life. Binder's novel is propelled by a dizzying spirit that allows us to observe society's collapse with something akin to sad glee—not unlike the spirit of Aldous Huxley's Antic Hay or Weimar cabaret. Forever Magazine calls it "like Houellebecq but good-natured," which seems about right.
It’s been a week since the engagement party. Rain has fallen constantly, and I’ve started rewriting the history of my life. Tonight, Winston has taken Blanche to the cinema for a double-feature of 101 Dalmatians and Homeward Bound. The studio is silent except for the whispering of mice. I lie in my bed reading my childhood journal. There was a time when I was full of ambition and guts, but today I’m terrified of everything. The only emotion my past inspires is mistrust. I’m developing a complete inability to rise above things. It takes three pieces of bubble gum to find even a hint of solace.
There’s a knock at the door. To justify my existence, a sort of last campaign against a regression to total infantilism, I quickly dress and comb my hair, then open the door to find Janie dripping in the rain.
“I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye the other night,” she says, “so I thought I’d pop in for a visit.”
Understandably, she excuses herself to the bathroom to gather herself. I boil water for tea and set out a plate of lemon macaroons. When Janie returns, she’s wearing only my jacket.
“I hope this is okay?” she says.
I fiddle nervously with the nobs of a broken radio while Janie nibbles on a macaroon. There are two dozen cat-bags in various stages of completion lying about.
“You’ve moved in here full-time?”
“I know it doesn’t much compare to your new home with Stephen.”
“On the contrary, I quite like it,” she says, and begins to pace about. “It suits you.”
She stumbles over parts from a disassembled grandfather clock, then gets caught in the colony of furry bats I’ve made out of cellophane and carpet, all hanging from a beam.
“Do you know what the problem with happiness is?” she says.
“I wouldn’t know the first thing on the subject.”
“Even a chance at happiness requires us to give up all desire.”
“Things not going well with Stephen?”
“When a man is as handsome as Stephen, it’s easy to be good-natured. What he doesn’t have is your vagabond spirit.”
My thoughts go spinning like a thousand deranged ballerinas. My trouble with Janie has never been her per se, but with her effect on me. With her, always, I lose my sense of self. All my effort went toward anticipating her needs, which invariably I misjudged. Countless times my best intentions ended in tragedy. Once, I punched her uncle in the face over Thanksgiving dinner because of the things he did to her during childhood. Janie swore the ensuing rift between her and her family could never be repaired. The reason I couldn’t see how I’d harmed her was that my powers of introspection were weak. In short, she said, I was prone to endless self-deception.
“That woman you brought to the party was very pretty,” Janie says. “Is she your new girlfriend?”
I want to tell Janie of my love for Orsi—how I spend half my waking hours and three-quarters of my dream life thanking the heavens for her existence. Instead, I merely shrug.
Then, to my total amazement, Janie pounces on me like a leopard on a gazelle. She chews on my lips and thrusts her tongue in and out of my mouth. I try to push her off to catch my breath, but she pushes me onto my rickety bed and sets to ripping off my pants with her teeth. She yanks off my jacket and shirt, then slaps me hard, nicking my tooth in the process with her colossal diamond engagement ring. I spit blood all over her neck and breasts, which, against all reason, incites her. She takes me in her mouth, the whole thing, until she gags. Her eyes turn bloodshot and tears stream down her face, sooty with her makeup. She climbs on top of me and beats my chest with her fists, grinding so hard I’m afraid one wrong move will snap the whole thing off. Finally, she finishes and collapses.
“One thing I always appreciated about you,” she says after a time, “is that I never had to feel bad about being brutal or savage.”
“It’s nice to have someone with whom to share familiar things.”
She reaches for a macaroon and stands with it naked at the window. Her sweaty body shimmers in the moonlight. I get a bag of ice and press it to my cheek. She touches my swollen eye.
“My relationship with Orsi isn’t serious,” I say. “Truthfully, I hardly ever think about her. I can go seconds, even minutes, sometimes, without the image of her face forming in my mind.”
“I hate to admit it,” Janie says, as she puts on her bra, “but I became quite jealous when I saw her kiss you at our party.”
“You don’t think her teeth are too white?”
“I think she bleaches them. How could she not?”
Janie lies down next to me, suddenly very wistful, and we don’t speak until the whistle and pop of illegal fireworks interrupts our bliss.
“What is it?” Janie says, as I pound a fist against the wall.
“The other day I sketched a picture of three birds, but only painted two of them. Orsi’s husband made a very keen insight about the work, only I didn’t realize it at the time. But Orsi insisted I simply hadn’t gotten around to finishing the painting. Her remark was so alarming that I just stupidly agreed.”
Janie buries her face in a pillow and screams.
“Orsi’s married?” she says. “So now you’re making a hobby of breaking up relationships!”
I pick up the pillow and fire it across the room.
“What is wrong with you?” Janie says.
“Orsi was right. The crisis of modern man never crossed my mind when I left that bird unpainted.”
Janie climbs out of bed and starts to dress, cursing at herself as she does. I’ve never known her to fall prey to petty envy. I place my hands on her shoulders and look into her cinnamon eyes.
“I know you said you like the studio,” I say, “but we don’t have to live here.”
“I have to go home,” she says. “Stephen gets back from his Doctors Without Borders trip in the morning.”
“He seems like a good person,” I say. “Please try to let him down gently.”
“I’m afraid you have the wrong idea, Paul.”
“If you want to keep us both,” I say, “I’m not opposed.”
“This was a terrible mistake. We can never see each other again.”
Janie kisses me on the cheek and then is out the door. I stand there naked for several minutes before Winston and Blanche return from the movies.