We are so happy that Joshua Lorenzo Newett has offered to share Chapter One of his latest novel is titled Saving Bill Murray. The book centers around several characters including Mr. Bronze, who is a self-loathing agoraphobic who writes for the seniors' magazine AARP Goldcoasters. And Jonathan Rosenberg who is heir to his grandfather's paper plate fortune. And they there is Ryan, who is an Evangelical Christian who believes God has called him to save the soul of Bill Murray. Yep, you heard me right. It appears that God believes that Bill Murray’s soul needs saving.
It's a novel about post-modernism, religious zealotry, existentialism, and the absurd. It's about coming to the edge of the abyss and peering in. It's about regeneration through destruction.
Joshua, who writes regularly for FIVE THOT, has given us (you and me) access to the prologue and Chapter One of Saving Bill Murray. Here’s the Chapter One, and here’s the Prologue. And here’s how you can buy the book now that we’ve whet your appetite.
Chapter One: Mr.Bronze
The incident took place on a particularly dusty, mildew-filled September afternoon. He’d been lost in visions of loathing for hours when he leapt to his feet, picked up the green-screen monitor of his Apple IIe, and hurled it to the floor. It didn’t blast into hundreds of tiny pieces as he expected but made a thick muffled whomp which further enraged him. He ran to his bedroom, returning with a cricket bat. He struck the monitor fourteen times before he froze. He immediately ran to his brown coffee-stained chair and was rendered motionless by the thought that his neighbors may have heard the sound and would come look in on him. It was one of his worst fears, his neighbors, or others, trying to get into his life assuming he wanted or needed their friendship or help. It made his skin crawl. He didn’t leave the relative safety of his chair until dusk had set in. He sat for hours staring at the fragments of glass and plastic and was thankful the days were growing shorter. Under the cover of dusk and the gathering storm of pins, needles, and pain in his legs, he decided to get up. “Enough is enough” he announced to the dust mites.
He couldn’t help but sigh at another ruined green screen, and as he navigated over and around bits of plastic and glass, he felt queasy; his normal route was blocked by sharp things, he couldn’t take eleven steps at a forty-five degree angle then tack across the room with another eleven steps at a forty-five degree angle. He thought about just walking over the shards, but if he was cut badly he’d have to call an ambulance, and that would bring about a whole other set of problems. As he opened the closet door, his queasiness transformed into vertigo of the highest magnitude, and he dry heaved when he saw he was down to his last two green screens. His last two vintage green screens, the only kind of monitor he felt he could actually finish his assignments on. Almost immediately after he regained his balance, steadying himself against the door jam, he felt the tension leap into his shoulders. He reached up with a quaking hand, snapped the light out, and closed the door. 'I’ve got to get control of myself. I can’t let it come to this every month.'
He ran the broom for exactly eleven steps at a forty-five degree angle, feeling a measure of calm come over him with each step. Bam! His shin met the edge of the coffee table. “Fucking cat shit!” The sanctity of eleven and forty-five had been broken, destroyed, and smashed on the rocks, its potency and effectiveness called into question. There was nothing left to do but sweep a path to the window at a safe angle and watch the cars and people pass on the street below.
There were moments of lucidity when he would try to remember exactly when and how he had become a shut-in, and more often than not he found himself on the morning of May 5, 2003, just three days after he broke up with Sandy Powaski. Everyone said they made a stunning, picture-perfect couple, but he found under her beautiful veneer a shallow, boring facsimile of a real person. For some time before that morning, he felt a disturbance; a slight rumbling in the distance he figured was caused by his mild annoyance with his girlfriend. When he broke up with her and the rumbling continued, he became suspicious that he was being stalked by feelings not quite tangible to him yet. It became clear to him he was beginning to hate New York and everyone in it. He was shocked to find he was developing a deep mistrust and an even deeper disappointment not only in New Yorkers but in the human race as a whole. With increasing frequency, he felt the tremors in the distance, vibrations of a negative force that sent ripples of uncertainty through his wellbeing.
Weather-wise, it was a perfect morning, a balmy sixty-eight degrees with a slight wind out of the northwest and not a cloud in the sky. He was on 3rdavenue and 68th street when the mirror of a late model white Jaguar XJ6, driving too close to the curb, clipped his briefcase, knocking it out of his hands. He turned to shout, but instead caught the eye of the beast he knew had been stalking him for some time: fear, mortality, apathy, and a deep sense of failure because he hadn’t become President of the United States, a movie star, a socialite, a senator, or at least a member of the House. He started to avoid going out on sunny days.
A few months after the incident with the green screen, he was infuriated both by the memory of the white Jaguar XJ6 and the sunlight trying to force itself through his dusty velvet curtains. He picked up the lamp on his nightstand and dashed it to pieces. He wrapped himself in the thick velvet of the plush curtains and watched the passersby with his usual questioning. ‘What does the word life mean? Why are they walking so fast? What are they arguing about? What’s the point of breathing? Is life worth fighting for if death is inevitable? Is it morally wrong to be overweight? Is there such a thing as morally wrong?' The questions that assaulted his mind as he watched the street always put him in an apathetic mood and made his green eyes glisten. ‘Maybe we’re killed by the god Shiva like we eat fruit. Maybe God eats us and we lose our lives. Maybe that’s the end for us, the purpose of our lives and deaths, we’re just food for the gods. Maybe earth is just a farm. Am I even one of these human beings? Is it possible this is all just my imagination or someone else’s?’ Many times he would drift off to sleep wrapped in the thick plush of the velvet curtain and wake hours later in a state of delirium, unsure if it was the same day or the next.
Mr. Bronze was peering out through his thick wine-colored velvet curtains at the sunny morning on the street below. He saw a young woman violently spit a wad of phlegm onto the sidewalk. He had seen her many times. Spitting, mumbling, and singing softly to herself under her breath were her habits. Smiling wasn’t; in the hundreds of times he had seen her, he never saw a smile on her lips. Her mouth disturbed him, it was a mistake, some kind of unnatural perversion. It seemed fifty years older than the rest of her body, as if she had overused it or traded her young delicate mouth away for a strange crooked-toothed gypsy grin in a time of need. She had a nervous face with deep-set eyes that darted around as if she were trying to catch someone following her. Her hair was dirty dirty-blonde and hung limply around her shoulders. She only had one outfit, a faded yellow sundress she wore even in the dead of winter. It shattered his being to the core every time he saw her. It was like the dream where he noticed he had a loose tooth; then, before he knew it, all his teeth were cracking and falling out of his head two at a time until he had a mouth full of loose teeth that made a sickening clack clacking sound similar to marbles in a bag. She was he and he was she. In those moments he felt certain he was a lunatic of the highest caliber. Those fleeting glimpses of madness offered him some small consolation; at least he wasn’t subjecting others to his madness, if it indeed was madness.
He wondered if he had first gone mad and then confined himself, gone mad because he had confined himself, or some combination of the two. In his more lucid moments he thought maybe he just needed to have more patience with the world, but his lucidity was always cruelly hacked to pieces by the sharp edges of rogue thoughts. He imagined those thoughts to look similar to Atari Asteroids, and once in a while imagined he could hear the game’s music when they bumped into him. Bam bam wam bam bwam bam wham bam wham crshhhh. ‘Do they have enough moral patience? Why are people so hot-headed? What about Koba the Dread? Was Stalin trying to be evil? Did he think he was doing the right thing, or was he mentally ill? Is there evil? Is there me? Why do atoms look like solar systems, and streets like capillaries and arteries? Is everything the same from a distance? Who sang that piece-of-cat-shit song, From a Distance? Was it Annie Lennox?’
He had thought for a time that maybe patience would be his salvation, and took to meditating and holding himself in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time, but that quickly became part of the problem more than a solution. He would bargain with his himself and his thoughts ‘If I can stand on my right foot for twenty-one minutes without touching my left foot to the ground, while keeping my eyes focused on that spot on the wall, I’ll be able to write today.’ He lasted seven minutes on his first try. After he passed the three minute mark he knew he either had to make it to seven minutes or face the dire consequences. Never five, never five. Recently, threes and sevens had been his go-to numbers if things felt slightly off. Often, when he touched things or when he brushed them in passing, it somehow felt slightly off or wrong. The anxiety would mount and he wouldn’t feel right until he did the three-seven antidote. He would try to reset back to a neutral feeling by touching the offending object three times for seven seconds each touch. If that failed, he did three sets of three seven-second touches. It was a sliding scale that went all the way up to the break-the-glass-in-case-of-emergency twenty-one sets of seven sets of three seven-second touches. He only ever had to use it once. He didn’t like using the higher level antidotes because he felt the more they were used the less effective they would become, which would also diminish the power of the lower level antidotes which he relied on frequently.
The weak light of December streaming from between his wine-colored velvet curtains woke Mr. Bronze and he walked to the window at a safe angle. He peered outside at the grey light, trying to recall his hopes and dreams. He was hit with an epiphany. ‘This isn’t a window, it’s a portal to the outside world, a portal to my sanity.’ He watched the people passing on the street below and wanted more than anything to be a part of the world, a world that drifted further away from him everyday. Bwam bam bwam bam bwam bam bwam bam crshhhh! ‘Am I really crazy or just over-analyzing everything? Why has that woman picked up dog crap with her bare hand? Did she think no one saw?’
“No! No! It is enough!” he shouted. He ran to his desk, grabbed it, and slid it—at an unsafe angle—to the window. The curtains gave birth to galaxies of dust as he threw them open, letting the dim light wash over his apartment. He saw it in sunlight, remembering how much he loved the high ceilings, the bank of windows looking out on the street, the fireplace, and blonde wood floors. He had so many great memories in those rooms. His childhood birthday parties, Christmases, and family breakfasts on Sundays. The past five years seemed like an inky black stain on both his memory and the apartment. He opened the window to the cacophony of Manhattan and a cold blast of air that spoke of impending snow and carbon dioxide.
He laughed genuinely for the first time in eight months as he began to type. “In the beginning was the madness, and the madness was with God, and the madness was God.”
Three months later, he wrote the last sentences of his novel Symphony. “She slapped him and walked away. A smile spread over her lips as one thousand three hundred and forty-five freshly murdered dissenters were being turned into hot dogs in a meat processing plant on the outskirts of Cincinnati.”
Three minutes later, he opened his window and walked out of it.