Loneliness, creative differences and career choices are at the heart of this novel, which spans different time periods. Frazier Pickett lives within his own private world and calls himself the slumbering man or someone that drifts off into a being at rest; quiet; still; inactive or motionless: a quiescent mind. Frazier is married to Margaret and each seem to at times be in the same room yet even though their spaces are occupied they seem invisible to each other. He is a writer/editor and she is a publishing –executive wife. Trying to keep their marriage in tack and their careers on an upward slide. Living in the West Village in Manhattan and with their two children he works as an editor at Flying Pens, not an A rated agency but B-list one. Margaret however, is now at the top of her game at Harper-Collins and is now director of creative non-fiction. Frazier seems to limit his goals and even in the first scene you see him at a book launch with no books, a sign about the title and no impetus to call the publisher or author to get the books in order to sell them to the audiences that are present. Each one falls prey to someone who they think will not only stimulate them and make them feels more alive but also enhance their careers. Meet Anastasie Moreau, his muse who is in the field of art and who shows him around her gallery and her work while Margaret’s mind is somewhere else on a project concerning a poet whose work is linked to the Arab Spring.
Frazier Pickett III refers to himself as the slumbering man one who has taken to reading over the top fake reading glasses not wanting anyone to know that he is myopic making it easier for him to not see what’s going on whether with poor eyesight, or not wanting to face the realities of his life in the real world as opposed to the one he’s created within his own mind. Three unpublished novels, and not having written anything in over four years, not caring about economic injustice, things in the news, wars, protests or even giving valid viewpoints, he seems complacent and not tuned in to life’s issue nor does he seem to care. But, there is much more in the present that will link to the story of Katya Ivashov, Boris Pasternak’s young writer protégé.
The story opens with a poem called The Stalin Epigram, which refutes the dictator and criticizes his every existence sending Katya’s family and the author into the hands of the KGB and sent to concentration camps and then killed.
The second poem the Tunisian Muscle deals with Tunisia and the dictator. Katya is inspired by Paternak and taken by him and moves into his home with his wife Zinaida and their son who takes her under his wing teaching her piano. Margaret in the present ignores her husband and even though he has not penned a novel she dreams of writing. Using her own muse to help her, he falls for Anastasie a French contemporary artist.
The novel flashes back between Katya and her relationship to Russia during the time of Stalin and Frazier in America trying to come to grips with the different movements and renewing his spirit in himself. Some stories are told in a simple way while this one and others will leave the reader hopefully understanding the meaning of life’s destiny, love, loyalties, responsibilities and hope. How does someone deal with slumbering through life and not see clearly even out of the glasses he has chosen to wear?
The link in the past and the present seems to be poems that were written in order to convey specific messages. In the present the slumbering man is enamored with a woman who writes poems and tries to convey his feelings and messages of loneliness and aloneness within the words that the so eloquently weaves. In the past we have the Stalin Epigram, which has two specific versions. One if the original by Osip and the second one that condemns Stalin and everything he stands for as Katya presents the original to Oleg who is Osip’s son on a night when his mother’s TB gets worse. Both plots lend themselves for all of the characters to change course and do something that will change their ultimate conditions and lives. The setting is Russia during the reign of Stalin and the literary world focusing on Occupy Movement of New York City.
Katya is outspoken, smart, thinks logically and defends not only Pasternak when confronted by the Gestapo coming into his home and ransacking it in order to get him to sign a paper showing allegiance to them and denouncing his values. In the present Frazier has a clouded vision of himself and needs to lift the fog in order to see the real Frazier, decide where he wants to go and hopefully will reawaken himself in his writing and spirit. His eyeglasses provide him with a dim view of life but will they ever have a clear lens? Fixated on Anastasie Moreau, falling for her yet not really knowing her, he considers her his inspiration and muse. While, Margaret, his wife pays little attention to him and she slowly needs to find a way to write her novel, reclaim her roots and then decide where life will take her. Just how do the letters to Alice aide in helping both Frazier and Margaret find their way back to each other? What about her secrets? Pasternak, let us not forget penned Doctor Zhivago and Katya struggles to find Oleg, her lost lover and also is responsible for the publishing of Zhivago and her own story, My Long Journey Home. While she is fighting with her own choices and hoping that Pasternak can arrange for Oleg’s father’s release, Frazier and Margaret have this interesting love, hate relationship and neither one seems to be bending or swaying in the direction of the other.
Two voices are heard within this novel that of Frazier as he and Margaret try to bond when she visits her grandfather, receives several letters that explain what her grandmother wanted to share with her and then Kayta in the past whose voice is strong as she and Oleg hopes to see his father one last time. Poetry, bonding, links to the Stalin Epigram, the Tunisian Muscle poem and literary skill of writing poems that express feelings, the times, events and more are at the heart of this complex novel.
The interplay between Margaret, Frazier and Anastasie is powerful as all three are trying to find some semblance in their lives. Frazier feels that both of these women can be his muses as we hear the letters he writes to Anastasie and those written to his wife from her grandmother. Each letter focuses on writing, understanding your goals and thoughts and being able to express them within your own heart and soul in a meaningful way. As Frazier and Margaret seem to be bonding and Margaret meets the other women, can she come to terms with how her husband feels about her? In the past we learn more about Oleg, his father and Katya and her determination to help two people find jobs but to no avail. Even giving the information and hoping that knowing Pasternak will help she finds herself doing so many good deeds while Oleg is fighting his own demons knowing that some day soon he will be called to fight for his country and for Stalin. Katya, hopes to use the Stalin Epigram whether a forgery or real to help the Marina and her partner get jobs as we meet Mur who will no live with them. Why is she so determined to help these people knowing she might find herself exiled or worse? How does Oleg really feel about what she so strongly wants to do? Will her writing for Pasternak keep her safe?
While Frazier and Margaret are trying to reconnect through their writing things change for them in the present as they are trying to find a common bond in their writing that will link them together and bring them back to each other. While Frazier and Margaret learn more about the Tunisian Muscle and Tunisian Jasmine from someone noted to be able to tell the correlation between the two poems, Frazier is arrested for protesting the banks bullying people and foreclosing on their homes. The arrest sparks his insight and his fervor to join forces with this wife to create a novel. But, critiques hamper the flow as in the past Katya is separated from Oleg who has been in a Gulag for four years yet no one has been able to learn more than he escaped, was placed in isolation as she asks Pasternak, Solomon and others to help her find her husband. This is a novel about searching for identities as the slumbering man and Margaret are trying to find ways to create their own form of writing and yet hoping to understand each other’s needs. Finding her way to her parent’s home with their children was not exactly what they expected as going to Frazier home was strained too. Grandpa Mandt was more forthcoming with Margaret and the letters from Nana encouraging. But, this novel is much more as you look deep into the heart of it and realize it’s about revolution and change in both the past and present as the two Tunisian poems reflect and the protests and political uprisings in both time periods show. Kayta is facing the results of WWII and her missing husband as Pasternak will hopefully complete his manuscript.
The most compelling part of this novel is learning the truth behind the title and who Alice really is and why her letters were so poignant and how they would affect both Frazier and Margaret. Just who Grandpa Mandt is related to in the past links both stories in the present as the Felix wonders was Katya really Alice? Learning more about My Long Journey Home by Alice who the fact that Osip was her father, we learn the reason behind the book, whose life is reflected as both Frazier and Margaret glean different things from reading it. In the past Katya is overtaken with sadness when told this manuscript will not be published because her ideas go against that of Russian standards or ideals. But, someone comes to the rescue you might say that provides an outlet for both her novel and Dr. Zhivago to be published but will she take the chance knowing who the person is and what he stands for?
With Katya/Oleg and Solomon, Frazier, Margaret and his painter, Lara and her lover and Pasternak, Zinaida and Olga the reader will learn at the end the final fate of each romance and if Frazier will finally see things through his new lenses and understand the true messages from the Letters to Alice.
Poetry, painting and writing your story is at the heart of this poignant novel by King Grossman and hearing Katya’s voice as she relates that the poem by Osip Mandelstam her father’s friend slapping Stalin’s atrocities, got him years in prison and her father killed provides the perfect epilogue for this novel as we get to hear not only Frazier, Margaret and Anastasie’s voices but we can visualize a final scene that combines both the past and the present and we wonder what influence the letters will have not only on Margaret’ writing, her children when they learn about it and Frazier and his muse. Can love be spread out of is it just for one person as the love of writing takes center stage in this novel and the risks taken in the past and present come shining through.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine
Questions for the interview
How did you create a multiple plot that keeps readers switching time periods yet connecting them both?
Why did you start this novel with the Stalin Epigram and what integral part does it play throughout the novel?
Who is Frazier and why do you refer to him or he refers to himself as the Slumbering Man? Explain his relationship with Margaret? Why is he so down on himself and what is hampering his writing?
He has three unpublished novels and is working for Flying Pens what are his real goals?
In the past we meet Katya, Osip Mandelstam, Pasternak: How does Katya come to meet them and what influence do they have on her, her life and her writing? Explain her relationship with Pasternak’s wife Zinaida and why do they take her in? What causes her not to follow her parents and remain stanch and stalwart with Pasternak? What about him intrigues her and makes her love him in a different way than a wife?
Tell us about Dr. Zhivago and why he did not have it published and why he did not push to see it in print?
What about Katya: What exactly did she do for him that would keep her save? What was her relationship with his son and how does she meet Oleg?
Tell us about Margaret and why she and Frazier seemed to be drifting apart and the reasons why the two Tunisian poems come into play in their lives. Why do they want them both translated and explained and describe the protests and how Frazier became involved?
Who is Anastasie and why does she play a strong role in Frazier’s life? Explain why he is so drawn to her. How does this relate to Pasternak’s relationship with Olga in the past? Why does having a mistress or muse make a direct impact on both men?
Tell us about Nana’s letters to Margaret and why Grandpa Mandt plays an important role in giving her the impetus to try and find her own story. Define what you mean by their own stories and how does Anastasie and her painting and poetry impact Frazier? Tell us about the poems: Did you write the ones that she penned and explain their meanings?
Tell us about I Will Be A Tree
What research did you do before writing about the second World war, Stalin and that time period?
Why wasn’t it safe to disagree with what the Russian government wanted and why did Oleg get arrested?
Who is Solomon and why did Katya become involve with him and why did she live with Olga? What happens when Zinaida comes along to meet with her?
Who was going to publish My Long Journey Home and tell us about this novel without giving away who wrote it?
How did this impact Margaret in the present?
What other interests did Frazier have and tell us about the Occupy Movement?
What would you say are the main issues that you want to relate to readers?
This is a powerful novel and hearing Frazier’s thoughts and then the conflicting ones involving his relationship with his wife and his muse reflects back to the past with both Pasternak, Katya and even Grandpa Mandt: Why did you create these story lines?
When reading this novel I read it once and then reread the chapters in the past and then the ones in the present to get the proper context, sequence and flow of events in both time period: what correlations do you want readers to get and what do you hope they will learn about Pasternak and Osip when looking through their eyes and Frazier’s?
What is the significance of his reading glasses and did he really need them?
When Doug and Mattie meet his muse what did they think about her and why did Doug take to her so fast? What happens when she and Margaret meet? The ending leaves readers wondering if Frazier will continue his relationship with his muse or remain loyal to Margaret: The story is powerful and readers learn a lot about the time period why did so many get arrested for not going along with Stalin? What happens when he dies? Why didn’t things change?
Do you plan to continue Margaret and Frazier’s stories and what would they tell you if they could speak to our listeners about their own journeys? What about Katya and Oleg?
What is next for King Grossman and where can readers learn more about you and your work?