The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even: A Novel

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9781619022904: The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even: A Novel
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This is a wonderful comic novel, about philosophy, the nature of art, the beauty of the ordinary, and about quirky, complete, night & day victims of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Two charming, over-anxious, germ-phobic friends, Isaac and Greg take a road trip from Boston to Philadelphia. They are both obsessed with Marcel Duchamp, his art and his ideas, and thus the destination has to be the largest collection of Duchamp in the world, The Philadelphia Art Museum, the actual place The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” was to be delivered when it was cracked and broken in shipment. The piece is sometimes known as The Large Glass, and today it sits in the middle of a large gallery proudly displayed in its broken state which Duchamp repaired and then certified had been his intention all along.

The two men are driven in a rented disinfected Winnebago by Kelly, a beautiful art scholar who smells like a mixture of lemons and fresh sawdust. They intend to pick up an ancient chocolate grinder, an exact working sculptural copy of one used in a Duchamp painting. Isaac intends to grind his own pure chocolate, which will prevent the build-up or arterial plaque, because his mother died of a stroke. Every action has its own suitable reaction, and then some. Isaac hopes eventually to overcome his devotion to his many obsessions and to re-enter the world, evidently his version of the real world. He is not an unreliable narrator, he is a hyper-reliable narrator, consumed by his own attention and thrilled with the connections he sees everywhere all at once. Of course when he finally gets to the museum he must dress-up as a woman to visit the collection.

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About the Author:

Chris Westbury is a cognitive neuropsychologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. His work focuses on understanding the functional structure and neurological underpinnings of language. This is his first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

        Call me Isaac.
        For now, anyway.
        You can call my mother Julie, from now on I guess. She was Julie. Now she is not.
        Let's say that she died of a stroke in her garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon two Junes ago while I was out at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, even though that was one of the hardest museums for me get to by public transit. Maybe I was there because it was one of the hardest museums to get to. If I had to travel further, it kept me out of the house longer.
        It was not that I wanted to get out of our house. It was just that it was good for me to get out of the house. One of those baby steps our group therapist Jannie was always talking about.
        You probably won't get Julie and Jannie confused, but just to be sure: think of jewels when you think of my millionaire mother Jules; think of a nanny when you think of my still-in-school group therapist Jannie. I always use tricks like that.
        Only my Dad ever actually called my mother Jules, though.
        I was the one that found Julie after her stroke. She and I were living alone together then, in a house that had been much too big even for three before my Dad died. It has seven bathrooms. After I starting living there alone after Julie died, I started using a different bathroom every day of the week, so that our cleaning lady Milly (whose real name is Anna Millson Tier) wouldn't feel like she was just totally wasting her time cleaning them all. I doubt that she could really tell the difference, though. I am very fastidious.
        My Dad- Stanley, as he always insisted he be called, never just plain old Stan- was a man liked who to show off his money. When he was 61, he bought a brand new black Porsche. He only got to drive it for three years before he died. When he was dying he probably wished that he had bought it earlier. For him it was extremely cool to have and we only got half what he paid for it when we sold it. That would have annoyed Stanley. My Dad hated a bad deal.
        I would say that Julie looked fine, almost totally normal- even a little more beautiful than normal in an odd way; somehow younger in death than life- when I found her lying in her garden, except for her slight grimace and the fact she was lying awkwardly in the dirt, her right arm tucked half under her body, her right cheek lying on the soil.
        I didn't touch her of course.
        When I found her collapsed like that on top of her own arm, I went in the house and called 911. I didn't go right away, because I already knew she was dead and I wanted to look at her before for a few minutes before I left her alone there. After I called these two guys named Sam and Steven came in an ambulance and looked at her for a while, and then told me she was dead, and then some else came and took her away, just like that. Our lawyer Mr. Salandhi took care of getting her cremated on behalf of the family (which was by then reduced to only me) so I never saw her again.
        I wish that I had turned her over and washed the dirt from her cheek before they took her away. I wish that I could have had the presence of mind, the compassion, the simple reckless guts, to do that.
        Julie was a fantastic mother. She looked after me for way longer than any mother should have to look after her son. I wasn't all she had hoped for in a son. She was stuck with me when I was stuck at my worst.
        Everyone gets stuck sometimes. That's normal.
        But I was stuck almost all the time for years.
        That's not normal.
        That's diagnosable.

+++

        You can call my best friend Greg, for now. He actually has a cooler name that I will tell you later, but Greg is his real name and that's what almost everyone calls him.
        I don't believe in God but if I did I would write here: Thank God for Greg.
        This guy made my life. If it wasn't for him, I don't know what I would have ever done after my mother's cheek fell into her garden's dirt. I am sure I would never have left Medford, MA to buy an expensive replica of an antique chocolate grinder with legs in the style of Louis Quinze.
        So if you read this, Greg (and you will read it, buddy, because I'll be calling on your for proof-reading): Thanks, man. You shloobing rock.
        In case you are wondering what that means (which you no doubt will be unless you are Greg), Greg doesn't swear. He's against it, says it promotes avoidable unhappiness by "unnecessarily stimulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis". Greg believes that we have a moral duty to avoid avoidable unhappiness. When most people would swear, he always says schlooby or schloobies (or sometimes schlooby-pie, don't ask why, there isn't any reason). It's annoyingly addictive once you start doing it. Try it and you'll see.
        So, Greg doesn't just rock. He schloobing rocks.
        When Greg and I first met, I was an undergraduate at Tufts University, majoring in psychology, to see if I could understand what was going on with me. I was having a lot of problems on those days. I went to a group therapy session at the hospital that we always just called 'group'. The same way people just say 'We went to church'. We went to group. It's like it doesn't really matter which exact church or group it was. All that matters is that we went to one.
        Mr. Greg Zipf was in group with me. He did look like a crazy person. Sorry, buddy. I feel bad writing that down, but we both know it's really just true. Let's speak truth to fact.
        Greg looked like an anorexic nerd in the throes of drug withdrawal. If I write here that I mean that in the nicest way possible, you'll probably think I'm trying to make some kind of mean joke. I'm not. He's Greg. If you knew him, you'd see what I mean. The anorexic nerd in the throes of drug withdrawal look suits him. It's just who he is.
        He wore ragged, second hand t-shirts with slogans that had absolutely nothing to do with his life. Although he has denied it and probably still will today if you ask him, I am pretty sure that at that time Greg only owned (or only wore, anyway) three shirts: one promoting a chain of Puerto Rican car repair shops; one commemorating a poker tournament in Las Vegas 10 years earlier (that he had not been to); and blue one that had a red line drawing of the Canadian parliament buildings in Ottawa. He always wore old jeans, too big, that he cinched with a thin brown belt (clearly intended for women) high up from his scrawny hips. He probably only had a pair or two of those. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt in writing that: It always looked like the same pair to me. He often wore a long, grey, stained rain jacket, rain or shine, summer or winter, inside or out, with its front pockets stuffed with two or three well-used second-hand paperbacks. He smelled, not of unwashed body odors (he is obsessive about washing his body too, even if he does it mainly only when everyone else is asleep), but, slightly dizzyingly, sickly sweet; due to the fact that he generously applied any cologne that he found for sale for a buck at the dollar store. His thinning straggly brown hair was slicked slightly too much to his scalp, styled in a poor and completely unconscious comb-over. He had a look in his large bright brown eyes of frantic frightened urgency, like a lamb who believes that there might be an attempt on his life at any second; maybe a little sad about things but wide awake.
        Greg was a hand-washer like me. He also had- and still has- [what some might call] a symptom that is perhaps unique in the annals of medicine: he is obsessed with spoons. He loves the look of spoons, especially the concave side. The outside is very good, but he much prefers the inside of the spoon. Of course he is right about that. The inside of a spoon invites us in to a weird, unpredictable, and often beautiful world of dancing light. The outside of a spoon just pushes our attention off of itself, like it doesn't want to have anything to do with anything else. I still discuss this with Greg occasionally. The topic has is quite boring since we have already agreed about it for years. It's like two Red Sox fans getting together every few weeks to pass the time agreeing in argumentative tones that the Red Sox are definitely the best baseball team.
        Greg's love of spoons was diagnosable. The reason I say that is that he couldn't do his 'activities of daily living'. That's what they call them in the mental health biz. Not being able to do your activities of daily living is very bad. It means that he couldn't do anything normal, like have a job, or a social life, or a girlfriend or anything. He spent too much time with spoons to leave room for anything that normal people did. When I first met him he would have happily spent six or eight hours at a sitting studying a spoon if he could find one. Many people in his life tried to make sure he did not. He was living with his sister at the time, not so happily. She allowed him to eat only with a fork. Greg did not find forks to be interesting. I once bought him a spork (combination spoon and fork) as a present. He told me he liked it a lot, but not as much as just a plain spoon. I told him he could use it to eat with and he still does. He uses it as a fork. I also bought him a small spoon plated with real gold once, which he still keeps in his main spoon collection that he has in a large case at his place now. He likes that one a lot. It is probably his favorite. (If you read that sentence, he didn't cross it out when he proof-read this, so it is true.)
        The lady who was running group in those days was an officious young intern from one of the many clinical psychology programs in town, who I already told you was called Janet, or at least I said she was called Jannie like nanny. (It doesn't even matter if you forget her name completely; she is a totally minor character in this book.) [...]

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