May our Goop book club Selection is Caleb Azumah Nelson’s first lyrical novel. Open water He explores the depths of romantic love through a relationship between two close friends and dark artists who meet in a London bar. You will fall in love with them quickly.
Read Chapter 1 below – the chapters are short and amazing and the entire book is 160 pages long. You can join a book club Facebook group Or zoom in on the chat to express your regret at how fast this was. Save the date – Thursday, May 27, 9:30 AM PDT – when we’ll talk to the author Live on YouTube. And if you are intrigued by the song references in this excerpt, listen to the Open water Playlist is running Spotify.
from Open water
On the first night you meet, on the night you both deny it as being a very short encounter, you pull your friend Samuel to the side. There’s a group of you in the basement of this South East London pub. Celebrate a birthday. Most of them are on their way to sugar, or fun, depending on their preference.
“I don’t usually do this.”
Usually this means something you’ve done before.
‘no promise. Pinky promised, she says. – But I want you to get to know your friend.
You want to say that at this point, the older man’s spinning records quickly faded, something like Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”, into something similar. You want to say it was the Isley Brothers, ‘Fight the Power,’ playing when you expressed a desire that you didn’t fully understand, but knew you had to act on it. You wished you could say, behind you, the dance floor heights and the youth move like it was in the 80s, where moving in this way was just one of the few freedoms that were given to those who came before. And since you remember this, the freedom is yours. But you promised to be honest. In fact, I was so amazed at this woman’s presence that you first arrived to shake her hand, before opening up to the usual wide hugs, and the result is the awkward throbbing of your arms.
She says, “Hello.”
You smile a little. You don’t know what to say. You want to bridge the gap but nothing is coming. You stand, watching each other, in an unperturbed silence. You imagine the look on her face reflects yours, which is a curiosity.
“You two are artists,” says Samuel, useful interruption. “She is a very talented dancer.” The woman shakes her head.
‘And you?’ Says. ‘What are you doing?’
– He is a photographer.
‘Photographer?’ Repeat women.
“I take pictures, sometimes.”
You seem a photographer.
“Timid.” Shy, you think. You jump through the conversation and watch it hurtling behind you. A red light leans across her face, she peek at something, something like kindness in his open features, her eyes watching your hands talk. It’s a familiar tongue that you notice, definitely south of the river. Sure, somewhere you are most likely to call home. That way, there are things that you know and speak to your being, but here they are not.
Would you like a drink? Can I get you a drink? Turn around, and notice Samuel for the first time since the conversation started. It receded a little. He smiles, but his body betrays that he feels closed. Guilt, you try to welcome him again.
“Do you guys want drinks?”
A woman’s face splits with a real, gentle amusement, and while that happens, there’s a hand on your elbow. You are pulled away. You need. The dance floor has slightly disappeared and there is a silence full of everything yet to come. There are cake and candles and try to harmony during Happy Birthday. You move the camera from where it swings across your shoulder, trains the lens to the birthday girl, Nina, making a wish, the single candle on her cake like a little sunshine. When the crowd starts to disperse, you are dragged in every direction. As the single photographer, it is your duty to document.
The music starts again. People stand in small groups, pause while you focus on the cute faces looming in the dark. The older man’s spinning records continue at a brisk pace. Fits Idris Muhammad’s book Could Heaven Be Like This.
You emerge from the crowd, you stand at the bar and raise your long neck in several directions. Here, when you search for the woman again, on the night in question, a night that you both deny as a very short encounter, you realize that she is over.
Adapted from Open water © 2021 by Caleb Azumah Nelson. Reprinted with permission from Black Cat, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. all rights are save.
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