”She wore the smallest of bikinis. Strings around her waist and between her legs that held in place a triangle of red cloth. Two smaller triangles of the same cloth attached to strings covered her nipples. Unbroken, luxurious tan; a salacious invitation to dream of the hours she spent lying in the sun naked. He took her in proudly, noting that even her feet were brown. A savage virgin goddess: no, a temple whore, ministering to adepts of Eastern mysteries. When she untied the cotton kerchief she had put over her head to drive in the open car, her hair, a mass of tiny curls, became a black halo surrounding her face.”Eva Longoria was kind enough to model something similar to what Carrie was wearing, please look upon this picture from a clinical standpoint.
Yes, Albert Schmidt or Schmidtie as everyone can’t resist calling him is a reluctantly retired lawyer. We first meet him in About Schmidt
of which there was a movie made starring Jack Nicholson. The movie bears very little resemblance to the book, in fact the “goddess whore” (Carrie) that Schmidt is talking about in the quote above was left out of the movie. Hollywood, I guess, decided to avoid the potential minefield of a twenty something being attracted to a sixty something. Usually it is cut and dried who is taking advantage of who in a situation like that, but in this book Louis Begley certainly blurs the lines leading one to believe that though the situation is untenable it does seem to be a mutually beneficial situation. The spectre of losing Carrie is always on Schmidtie's mind. His friend Mansour, richer than any person needs to be, and a man that is wiggling his way deeper and deeper into Schmidtie’s affairs, makes a play for Schmidtie’s prize possession. Carrie tells Albert what happened when she stayed over at Mansour’s apartment in the city.”Please show me your tits.
I had on this black blouse you gave me, you know, short, with little shoulder straps, that doesn’t button, so I lift it up and tell him, Here they are. Say hello. I think he’s going to grab me or lick them, but no, he asks me, What’s Schmidtie going to say? I couldn’t believe it, so I say he’s going to try and break your stupid face...
In the morning, he comes into my room again and says he’s sorry, he couldn’t sleep all night, he was jerking off thinking about me, and he’ll give me a million dollars if I fuck him. I ask, Right now? So he says, No, not now, I can’t get it up, I’m too worn out, but please soon. Don’t make me wait too long.
The old saying with friends like this who needs enemies might be appropriate. Obviously Mansour is rich enough to “buy” about any woman he wants. His obsession with Carrie has much more to do with Schmidtie than it has to do with her. I couldn't help thinking, with a wince, what a pathetic scene, any attraction that Carrie may have harbored for Mansour was certainly dashed with cold water. Although the offer of $1,000,000 does prove to be burr for our justifiably paranoid hero.
There is this scene that I’m sure Begley wrote just for me. ”They were in bed, Carrie watching the Knicks game, Schmidt reading. He had abandoned Phineas Redux, for the first time unable to share Trollope’s enthusiasm for Phineas or Lady Glen or Mr. Plantagenet Palliser, to feel that, across time and space, true English ladies and gentlemen were his spiritual comrades-at-arms. In the place of Phineas, he had taken up James’s The Awkward Age, which he pored over sentence by sentence, if not word by word, struggling to make sure that he understood correctly the diabolical chatter over teacups: the virus of corruption spreading from Mrs. Brook’s drawing room and really spared no one, not bewitching Nanda or even mr. Longdon, with whom he would have liked to compare notes on more than one subject. He was also playing footsie under the covers with Carrie.”Henry James is in Schmidtie’s bedroom.
I’ve read The Awkward Age
and there is no way I could even begin to follow the weave of James’s weighted writing with a hot Puerto Rican woman providing distraction.
Schmidtie’s daughter is unhappy with him not only for shacking up with this woman younger than herself, but also because she holds a long list of resentments from her childhood, stretching from not getting the jumper horse she wanted to her Dad banging her Vietnamese babysitter (I mean come on doesn't everybody do that?:-o). Some of it is justified, but the older she gets the less forgiving she becomes, and after awhile she starts to lose the sympathy of this reader especially when she keeps calling this "horrible man" up for MONEY
Schmidtie’s worst fears are realized when Jason enters the picture. ”She can’t get enough of that perfectly formed head and face, with its brush of blond hair, the blue eyes, the pert nose, white teeth, and believe it or not a cleft chin, and this is before you take in the rolling shoulders, pectorals of a discobolus, and Jesus, the biceps.”
He suddenly finds himself competing with a Greek God. His vestal virgin is slipping through his fingers.”How beautifully they assumed their roles: Schmidt, the fallen ogre; his child mistress, more expert than Hecate and yet as pure as a vestal, her body newly branded with the mark of the invader (a tattoo with Jason’s initials), her hair heavy with musk and the secrets he had whispered in spasms of unendurable pleasure; the blond hero destined to conjure the spell. The boy would kill him.... The method chosen for the execution remained to be revealed, but everything in its own good time. If he explained it all to the boy, made clear the circumstances, it could perhaps be a single blow to the neck, the trick of mercy.”Sometimes life leaves a few marks.
Poor Schmidtie, he is balanced on the fine edge of having more friends than he needs and having no friends at all. His daughter throws tantrums and stabs dagger after dagger into his back and then as he is bleeding to death like a fallen Caesar...she asks him for money. His vestal virgin teeters on her pedestal as he learns too much about her past. His friends have betrayed him in so many ways; and yet, he finds he must forgive them. I appreciated the way Schmidtie rolled with the punches. Life didn’t turn out anything like he expected, much like my own life and I’m twenty years younger than Schmidtie with many more curves in my road lying ahead. We can plan for one life, but we should be prepared to end up somewhere totally unimaginable. It isn’t always a bad thing. Click to see my The Awkward Age ReviewClick to see my About Schmidt Review