Tulips in Holland is the working title for this new novel I’m starting while I wait for In the Red to wend its way through the publishing process. The title is from the following exchange between my protagonist and a Silicon Valley millionaire who pays her for sex:
I’m not complaining. Overall, he is nicer to me than most men I’ve been with, even men who purportedly loved me. One day I was sad and he did not insist on fucking me. He took me to a museum to look at old paintings. We talked about the rich patrons who financed all those paintings. He did not mind that they were not very nice people. He was comfortable with that.
The paintings were from the Dutch golden age, bought with tulip money. While we were standing there looking at the Girl with a Pearl earring, he said a touch wistfully, “It’s really weird to wake up one morning to find out that your tulips are worth a whole lot of money.”
The dark-eyed girl gazed at me sadly over her shoulder, her red lips parted. The paint was riddled in hairline cracks.
“It’s also really weird,” he said, “to wake up one morning and realize that they’re just tulips.”
My new protagonist is really fun. She is acidly funny and gifted with a hot core of righteous female rage. I love the rage: it is kinetic and purgative. It is power. But there’s another thing at the center of this novel: an intense, amorphous sadness, pervasive and inchoate. I cannot yet pin down exactly what it’s about. I think it has to do with knowing. If you insist on not knowing, then you are wasting yourself. If you insist on knowing, then you will suffer. Being human inevitably entails being deluded or heartbroken. There is no Eden, and you can scramble blindly all you want into the past looking for its ruin but–there never was.
I can feel what will one day be this novel inside me, stirring in amniotic darkness.
It has another title, a title I could never talk my publisher into because it is completely uncatchy: Ammit. It comes from the trial of the soul in ancient Egypt. In this trial, the dead man’s heart is weighed on a scale against a feather. The feather is Maat, or Justice. The heart must balance perfectly against it. If the heart is heavier than the feather, weighed down by evil deeds, it is tossed to a monster who immediately devours it. The Egyptians had no Hell. Punishment for the wicked was oblivion; there was nothing worse than not existing.
Ammit is the name of the monster.