It isn’t exactly “good mental health sense” to fall in love with a writer. Especially if that writer is a man. For no matter how much you prove yourself to be a caring and devoted “partner,” you are always secondary to the work, and fair game for serving as the “inspiration” for a “character” that is only “vaguely” like you. And then there’s also the pain of encountering unwanted information that serves as the basis for “just a story.” This is the unfortunate manner in which Anna Kaiser learned of her fiancé’s infidelity. Nicholas had proposed to her almost a year earlier, after she had stuck with him in his days of poverty, before the success of his debut novel, Women in the Kitchen, caught on with an “oppressed” white male audience increasingly concerned with an American life in which The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t a reality. Though Anna was secretly ashamed that she could love a man so blatant in his misogyny, she couldn’t shake the original image she had of him from her mind. For when they had first met in college at Claremont McKenna, their shared love of literature was what brought them together, hence their decision to major in it in spite of parental protest. Because, in the end, no progenitor wants their offspring to suffer the disappointment of failing at life, which is to say, being financially handicapped in a world that can’t support socialism as efficiently as capitalism.
That’s the route Anna seemed to be heading in upon graduation, when she was forced to take the only job offered to her at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium as a ticket salesgirl. Nicholas tried to show his support for the lamentable direction her “career” was taking by offering the consolation, “Just think of all the inspiration you’ll get from spending so much time on Hollywood Boulevard.” Concurrently, Nicholas had been accepted into The Writing Program at USC, where he would be allowed further opportunity to thrive solely as a result of his father being willing to help him with expenses while Nicholas enjoyed the benefit of saving up all the money he received from USC while going through the program.
Mr. and Mrs. Kaiser, on the other hand, were quite finished with paying for Anna’s aspirations, which seemed to be fast fading into the horizon, she felt, as she handed a receipt to a fat, glazed over family of six from the Midwest (you can just tell when someone’s from the Midwest, it has to be said) who expressed that they were most eager to see the shrunken head. Anna didn’t have the heart to tell them they could simply look in the mirror to see that. Despite their divergent trajectories during this period, Anna and Nicholas remained closer than ever in their relationship, with Nicholas serving as the only bolstering source in her life, the one person who still encouraged her to write even if she kept getting rejected from just about every magazine and small press in and out of California. All the while, everything was coming up roses for Nicholas, experiencing a creative boon that can only come from not working a dead end job (that sort of thing only ever inspired Franz Kafka). He never asked her to read his manuscript though, and when Women in the Kitchen was picked up by BuzzFeed Books, she soon came to understand why. He didn’t want her judgment or discouragement from going through with the project. To weigh in with her bias of “womanliness.” It was the night he took her out to Musso & Frank Grill (it was their thing to play into Old Hollywood kitsch) to inform her of the news that she distinctly noted a change in him. He was no longer the passionate about literature, writing for the pure pleasure of writing person she had come to know in school. He was Nicholas Doherty, “professional author.” As he spoke animatedly about all the press he was about to get, about all the controversy he was about to stir, some part of Anna knew she should walk away right there and then. But that’s the thing about attachments deeply seated in nostalgia. They cloud your ability to make decisions based on present facts. And the present fact was: Nicholas was on track to be permitted the luxury of what he’d always wanted to be: an asshole.
A year after the release of the book, Nicholas’ media blitzkrieg showed no signs of slowing down, with guest appearances on late night talk shows fueling the fire of his polarizing persona. When Kimmel brought up the question, “And how does your girlfriend feel about all this? Is she a woman who’s comfortable in the kitchen?” Nicholas responded, “Extremely.” And as Anna watched it with Nicholas from the living room of the apartment that he paid for, she felt hot with the embarrassment of being useless, of not being able to make any headway in her own right. She knew that if she had any self-made prosperity, she wouldn’t cling so tightly to this relationship, even if Nicholas could occasionally make her come harder than Niagara Falls. Granted, he hadn’t done that in quite a while.
Anna suddenly realized why it had been a while when she came across his open notebook (the way Marilyn Monroe did with Arthur Miller’s) on the desk in his study while searching for his birth certificate to apply for their marriage license. On the page it was open to, Nicholas had written, “I met Caroline for drinks last night. I didn’t tell Anna because I know she’s threatened by all of my female friendships. It’s one of her more ignoble qualities, of which she has many to choose from. Plus, I’ve always joked with Caroline about one day marrying her, and in many ways, I do see her as a more viable wife than Anna. Yet even though I want to keep things open-ended with Caroline, I still felt compelled to tell her about a recent indiscretion of mine with a certain literary agent who may one day become useful to my career. I confessed that when this literary agent invited me over to her house in Beverly Hills, I already had it my mind that I would fuck her. Because I’m at the point where I know there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to rise further to the top of my industry. And the higher I rise, the closer I become to reconciling with the idea of parting with Anna, who is, increasingly, of no use to me.”
Anna averted her eyes from this last line, her entire body tensing with a muscle-tightening combination of rage and sadness. She didn’t know what to do or how to proceed. And, as though the universe intuited her dilemma, Nicholas entered the room at that very moment to witness Anna’s distraught state at the papery hands of his notebook. He regarded her stoically as he asked, “Is something the matter?” Anna glared at him for feigning innocence, confronting him head-on about the “excerpt,” which Nicholas insisted was made up, notes for the blueprint of a new book he was thinking of putting out next.
Anna began to sob against her better judgment, knowing Nicholas’ indifference to these types of displays would only make her all the more crestfallen. True to form, he didn’t act contrite or attempt to console her with his touch, merely extending the assuagement, “Anna, what you read is simply fiction based in what could be potential reality. When you’ve calmed down, come find me.”
With that, he removed himself from the room, leaving Anna in her hunched over standing position in front of the notebook.
It had been two years since that day in Nicholas’ study, and Anna had no regrets about leaving him as a result of her discovery. When she ambled by Book Soup one morning while walking her corgi, a rescue she had named Destino, she got the fates’ smiling confirmation of the choice she had made upon seeing Nicholas’ latest book in the display window, titled Anna Wrecks Your Life. Apart from the overt ripoff of the name from a Silverchair lyric, Anna was further unimpressed with the prose itself, the first few chapters of which she could barely get past upon thumbing through it. She tittered as she placed it back on the shelf, hurrying back outside to collect Destino before someone capitalized on their urge to steal him.
As she walked down Sunset Boulevard with an irrepressible grin on her face, making her way back home to edit a piece she was working on, she knew that it didn’t matter if Nicholas was famous or revered. His writing was, regardless, complete and utter bullshit.