…all the accouterments you’d expect from this inventive author — unflinching characterizations, a wildly inventive plot, and the taste
of jazz and booze on every page. Kennedy is a writer’s writer
and a reader’s fortunate discovery.
—Michael Lee, Cape Cod Voice (“Our Favorite Books, 2003”)
Bluett’s Blue Hours:
Book II of The Copenhagen Quartet
Bluett’s Blue Hours: Critical Acclaim
No one writes about the loves and lives of men better than Kennedy, including their relationships with their own children.
—John Mark Eberhart, Kansas City Star (“Noteworthy Books of 2003”)
…like blues from a saxophone, yes, in jazz style and blue tone, comparable with Dan Turrell’s Copenhagen crime books with murder in the dark and much more…
—Bo Tao Michaëlis, Politiken (Copenhagen)
…Kennedy’s second part of a planned noir quartet about Copenhagen is a moody and charming acquaintance…
—Tonny Vorm, Information (Copenhagen)
…names like Paul Auster as well as Dan Turrell floated into my consciousness while I read…a journey through the less smiling sectors of Copenhagen and its nightlife…
—Ulrich Wolf, Østerbro Avis (Copenhagen)
…a great novel!
…A beautifully sculpted novel, Bluett’s Blue Hours showcases Kennedy’s peculiar genius for physical and emotional description.
Bluett’s Blue Hours: Full-Length Reviews
Review by Linda Lappin
Appears in Rain Taxi, online edition, Spring 2004
NOTE: Since this review was written, Kennedy wrote two more Copenhagen novels, completing The Copenhagen Quartet.
Bluett’s Blue Hours: Excerpts
Chapter 1: The Sacrament of Vodka
… Friday, blessed Friday. Time to open the gates of the world hidden behind the veil of matter. With the purest of elixirs. An allergologist revealed this secret to him once when he was suffering from a bout of rhinitis. If you must drink, drink vodka. The purest of drinks. Her face rapt as she told him, her elephantine face like Lord Ganesha, remover of obstacles. There have been cases of patients with acute, near fatal asthma attacks cured by vodka, one woman who had to drink two wine glasses of chilled vodka every hour to keep her lungs functioning under a drastic attack. Think about it.
Bluett thinks about it as he descends the wooden staircase from his apartment and enters the freezing afternoon. A thief’s start onl’heure bleu: red sun still hangs on the smokey horizon of the frozen lake. He waits a few respectful moments, watching his breath, watching the red glare from the edge of St John’s, the old leper colony, stain the ice of Black Dam Lake.
The red ball of light sinks into the ice. Bluett waits for a taxi to pass, then crosses the blue road beneath the bare chestnut trees and steps out onto the ice. A lone skater makes lazy loops out in the center, gliding through the steepening dark, and Bluett trudges across the ice, his heart, his mouth, his brain yearning for the holy sacrament of vodka, his first drink of the week, of the weekend. He experiences this moment as worthy of a frieze on a Grecian urn. Drunk Stolis are sweet, those undrunk are sweeter yet.
To his right, across Fredensbro, the Peace Bridge, stands the tall white graffitied monolith of Fredensport, the Peace Gate, slanting up phosphorescent into the dusk, a keyhole cut into the middle of its flank. Like modern society itself, it appears always about to fall, but never falls, frozen perhaps in an interminable collapse.
Above the dark buildings behind it, Rigshospitalet, the State Hospital, looms like a beast of prey, waiting to gobble up the weak and dying. And to the left, his favorite neon chicken, mounted five storeys up on the top floor of an apartment building, lays neon eggs. The light sequence gives movement: first the chicken appears, yellow in the dusk, with a red head and feet, then a large red egg drops, hangs at an angle on the wall, a smaller blue one drops on top of that and finally a tiny white one atop the heap. The great red egg hangs suspended above the frozen lake, reflected in the cold black surface; the chicken’s red head turns to view its art before, in the wink of an eye, egg and chicken both disappear into darkness. Then the process begins again with a neon note of praise for the eggs of Irma’s Supermarket.
Bluett steers his course between the two cherished artefacts, monolith and egg, around the frozen island, toward the Front Page Café on the opposite embankment.
Chill seeps up from the ice through the leather soles of his shoes, penetrates his socks. He pictures thin ice cracking beneath his feet, the icy plunge, black grimey water in his eyes, his lambskin coat dragging him down as he claws toward the dark surface and all the ghosts of the dead lovers and lepers, drunks and killers, bankrupt and disgraced who took their lives here in Black Dam Lake reach up to his feet, his ankles, drawing him down to their encampment in the black cold watery room beneath the ice.
Tightening the fur collar around his throat, he steps up onto the embankment, tries to stamp warmth back into his soles, crosses to the Front Page Café, nearly empty at this hour. L’heure bleu comes charitably early at this parallel in winter. Eyeglasses steaming and nose running in the sudden heat, he strips off his coat and scarf and gloves and Kangol, mops nose and lenses with a clean white handkerchief, and proceeds to the bar.
An indifferent barmaid, heartbreakingly slender as music, looks at him without speaking.
“Double Stolichnaya on the rocks,” he says in Danish. “No fruit.”
She squints. He points at the bottle. She scoops ice into a glass with her slender red fingers, pours the vodka into a pewter measure, once, twice. Four centiliters, hardly enough to fill his hollow tooth.
“Introibo ad altare dei,” intones Bluett.
She squints at him “Hvad?” she says. “What for something?”
He shakes his head with a smile, pays, takes a bamboo-mounted newspaper from the rack and sits by the window where he can watch the street, the lake and the interior of the café all at once. He raises his drink, relishing the chill damp glass against his palm and fingers.
“To god,” he mutters, being the only customer in the place, tastes, sighs. “The joy of my youth.” He tastes again, sets the glass down.
Then he turns to the newspaper, BT, a late morning Copenhagen tabloid, the less flamboyant of the two available. He leafs through it at a leisurely pace. The front page story is about a 17-year-old Russian boy, son of an immigrant family, who killed his father with an axe while the man sat in his chair and watched television. The boy’s two younger brothers stood by with knives prepared to intervene in case the coup should fail and three sisters and the mother huddled in the kitchen. The boy was found guilty but received no sentence because the father, it appeared, had been a mad sadist who had tormented his family for all their lives. In the mornings they were compelled to rise in silence, bathe, dress, and sit silently in their assigned places at the breakfast table until the father sat and gave the nod that they could begin to eat and speak. Sometimes he made them wait on his pleasure for an hour. If they did not comply, they were whipped, punched, kicked, threatened with death. It seems the father was a jovial man in public. All this occurred in secret, within the family walls.
Bluett turns the page, sips his vodka, orders peanuts which the gloomy barmaid delivers without a word, takes his ten-crown coin silently.
He reads an item about a pig farmer who is suing the state because he has lost more than 50 per cent of his hearing from the constant pig screams. He is a state contractor, so feels the state must compensate him.
On the next page he reads an article about the Hale-Bopp Comet accompanied by a map with flow arrows showing where it will be visible when. He writes behind his ear that it should soon be clearly displayed in the northern sky above the lake here.
He drains his glass. The slushy ice chills his teeth. He calls to the barmaid for another just as the door opens and his friend Sam Finglas floats in.
The man halts and looks about with his startled blue eyes. He has a dreamy look about him. Then, with a visible reluctance that wounds Bluett, “Hey, Blue,” he says mildly.
“You been over to Christiania smoking some of that hippy hay or something? You look spaced.”
Sam chuckles, and Bluett notices his clothes: an expensive-looking heavy black leather coat he hasn’t seen before, black shirt and burnt-sienna cashmere tie under a elegant bottle-green sweater. The waitress delivers Bluett’s vodka and waits to be paid, eyeing Sam’s coat.
“Join me in the sacrament,” Bluett says to his friend.
“Can’t, Blue. Got an appointment.”
“An appointment? You dog. Is that who you’re all dressed up for?”
Sam grins self-deprecatingly.
“That’s a delicious coat,” the barmaid says, her fingers trailing affectionately over the leather on Sam’s chest, and Bluett is jealous. He tips her, gets no thanks, says to Sam as she disappears, “Well what in the hell are you here for if you’re not drinking?”
“Just a quick one, then.” He goes to the bar, and Bluett watches him chatting with the girl there. She smiles brilliantly as she takes his money, and he returns with a bottle of snow beer.
Bluett says, “My feel-good shield has suffered a few blows.”
Sam’s startled eyes show lack of comprehension. Bluett drops it, but can’t help but wonder. “So tell me about this appointment.” They raise their glasses, say, “Skål, slanté, kipis,” sip. Bluett adds, “Terviseks,” an Estonian toast, in honor of the madman who accosted him in Vesterbro last week, preparing to tell Sam about it.
“Just an appointment,” Sam says over a self-loving smile.
“You dog. You’ve gotten lucky. What do you have that I don’t? Other than that fantastic coat? Be careful. Your brothers’ll hit you on the head and throw you in a ditch.”
Sam takes a long draft of his beer while Bluett sits watching the white snowflakes on the blue label of the bottle, deciding not to go into the story of the Estonian.
Sam lowers his glass, sighs. “Tell you, Blue, this woman rings the bell. Never thought this would happen again. Again? Hell, never happened before. Never wanted it to. But here it is. Happening. It’s like … you hold back, you hold back, and suddenly … ” He shakes his head, baffled.
The startled eyes. “What do you mean?”
“You surrender. You know, you give in to the, uh, the calling of love. Or some such.”
“Yeah,” Sam breathes. “Yeah, like that.”
Bluett laughs. “You got bit bad, my friend!”
The startled eyes flash, blue glass. “You got something better going?”
Bluett raises his hands. “Hey, no offense, I’m nowhere. I’m jealous.”
And Sam’s eyes are earnest again. “Listen. You live a life that is all, like, broken up. Compartmentalized. I don’t mean you, I mean people. Like the Brits say: One. It don’t have to be that way.” He sighs, abandoning the enormity of explaining himself.
“You gonna marry the chick or pay her off?”
The eyes flash again, then damp down. “No. Don’t know. Hardly really know her to say it true.” He burps discreetly behind his fist. Bluett thinks maybe this explains why the barmaid was drawn in. The second law of Bluett: When a man has one woman, others want him as well. The first law is: No woman wants a womanless man.
Sam leans closer across the table, speaks softly. “She is wild. She wants to do it all. She really wants it. And she’s fun. And beautiful.”
I’ll be the judge of that, Bluett thinks. “Who is she?”
“She’s Russian. A blond blond Russian. Funny, I used to read Russian lit in college, loved it. Jesus. Dostoevski. White Nights. Turgenev. Tolstoy. And of course Nabokov. Hell, it’s like this was ordained, awaiting me somehow. Look, I’m older than you, Blue. My age, never thought it could be this.”
“So why don’t you marry her?”
He shrugs. “When Karine and I split. All that, that, that mess. No. Don’t want it no more. See people get divorced, then marry again, come on, get real, you know? You been through it now too, you must know what I mean. But you know, when I want to be with her, I call, she says, come on overrr, with those sexy rolling Ruski 'r's. I mean, I visit her … ” He hesitates, looks embarrassed to say what he is about to say, but is clearly too eager to share it. “ … I go over, she lets me in … ” His voice lowers.“She kneels down and takes off my fuckin shoes, man! I mean this woman is beautiful, and she’s young, and she kneels down and takes off my shoes! And … ” He wants to tell more, Bluett can see, but drinks some beer instead, starts again and Bluett can see that he is not going to get the rest of it. “She understands me.She’s a genius,” he adds suddenly. “An emotional genius. It’s like she knows me, you know, like no one ever has … ” He stops, as though he has suddenly heard himself gushing and feels embarrassed.
“Is she bright like in the brain as well as the heart?”
“Wisdom of the pussy, Blue,” he says and looks surprised at himself for saying it, but goes on. “Wish I could crawl in, die there. I would light a candle to her cunt and worship it.”
“Is this love or a hard-on?”
“Don’t know man. She just knows me.”
“Sounds like maybe she’s in love with you, Sam. Isn’t she gonna want more?”
“That’s the thing. She says, however I want it. She wants it that way, too.”
“Aren’t East European women usually a little more, I don’t know, down to earth, materialism wise?”
“Not this one, buddy.”
Bluett fills his mouth with vodka, lets it chill his tongue before he swallows. “I’ve made plenty mistakes in my life, but I’ve also learned a couple things. One is when a woman wants to give me that much it’s because, regardless what she says, she either loves me, with all the implications and expectations that involves, or she wants something out of me. Or both. Maybe one and the same.” Bluett tries to think a little more about what he was trying to say, but what started seeming very clear suddenly blurs in his mind. He wonders what he is talking about. Is he jealous and trying to bring Sam down? Or what? He feels embarrassed at having said so much, asked questions. He sips his vodka, decides to turn it all into a joke. “It’s like the old Japanese proverb, Sam. If you want to keep a woman, make her pay. A woman will never leave you while you owe her something.”
At Krut’s Karport, Bluett eats a bowl of chili with a glass of wine, and he feels okay, studies the green row of absinthe bottles behind the bar, 120 proof, resists the urge. He looks into a local newspaper to avoid looking at the tables full of beery youngsters in sweaters and leather jeans, grinning and pawing each other.
… he has another glass of wine, tips the charming young waitress who rewards him with a smile meant for him only. He pastes it to his feel-good shield and sets off past Sølvtorv to Nørreport, down Fiolstræde, past the university, the cathedral, behind which people queue at a yellow-lit sausage wagon on the dark street to eat steaming pølser with their cold bare fingers. Through Jørck’s Passage, he takes a left on Strøget, looks into Café Rex, Pilegården, continues down to the Palæ Bar, stands on the dark street looking into the bright window at the crowded tables, decides to save that for later, doubles back for a peek into the Bobi Bar.
Across the half-filled bar room, he spots a familiar face at the back table, two familiar faces. An American translator and Irish book salesman. The Irishman waves him over. Dermot Grady with a face full of whisky veins, map of Ireland on his nose. Bluett notes they are drinking Black Gold beer and gammel dansk bitters, orders a round and three hard-boiled eggs on his way back to them. Dermot has channeled a series of lucrative contracts his way in the past couple of years and Bluett feels he owes him.
Watching their fingers fumble at the brown bits of eggshell, Bluett sees they are a few rounds up on him, reminds himself Dermot has supplied half his business in the last year. He wonders if the American, a southern Californian who jumped ship in Sweden during the 60s, resents Dermot’s generosity to Bluett. But the American — Milt Sever — is listening raptly to the story Dermot is telling about a Danish novelist who has just returned from Brazil where, Dermot reports, the novelist has reported to him in considerable detail about the children he paid to have sex with.
Bluett cracks his egg on the edge of the table and rolls it between his palms, peels away the shell in one crackling sheet, pinches on finger salt from a stone bowl on the table.
“You wouldn’t actually consider such a thing yourself, would you, Dermot?” he hears himself ask and regrets being there.
Dermot blushes, clearly surprised. “I but tell the tale that I heard told,” he says and looks at Milt Sever. “What about yourself, Milt? Would you ever consider such a thing yourself?”
Milt’s smile is buttery. He is a tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired man. He clearly enjoys looking at Bluett in light of what he is about to say. “Well, now, I’m sure I would hate myself in the morning, but … ” He shrugs serenely. Bluett is surprised to find himself having to resist the urge to take a swing at the smug mouth, realizes he would probably miss or be blocked and find himself engaged in a humiliating and ridiculous tussle, realizes he is in danger of screwing himself out of money, a lot of money, and hears himself say, “Well I think a man ought to burn in hell’s river of boiling blood for a thing like that.” He holds his breath.
“You’re an honorable fellow,"”says Dermot, and Bluett starts calculating an exit that might cut his losses.
Milt is not finished with him. “Have you seen Fritz Anderson’s new novel?” Anderson is another American translator living in Denmark, a novelist who makes his living translating pharmaceutical newsletters. Bluett has read the first chapter of the man’s new novel in some literary journal. It is about the brief legality of child pornography in Denmark in the late 60s and early 70s and it includes a scene in which an adult male engineers penetration with a 10-year-old child which, when Bluett read it, had inspired him to write a letter expressing distaste to Politiken, which had evoked a surprising response from people who called upon the immortal beauty of Nabokov, Genet, and others in defense of sexual love between children and adults, all of which made Bluett realize he had walked into a trap here.
He shrugs, raises his gammel dansk, says, “Gentlemen. I drink to your very good health,” swallows, chases it with Carlsburg draft, and as he retreats from the Bobi Bar, wonders whether he has ruined his economic stability.
Human beings, he thinks, are not to traffic with. And where does that leave me?
Moving across Kongens Nytorv, he steers toward Nyhavn, goes down into the Mermaid, switches to beer, pint of draft lager, and sits on a stool at one of the high drum tables. The place is filling up. A 50ish Scot in the middle of the room strums a guitar and sings “The Streets of London,” as Bluett surveys the joint. No familiar faces.
The Scot takes a break, and an Italian kid comes on who is much smoother. He sings some Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John. The first pint goes down fast, and halfway through his second, the bar continues to fill nicely. The pleasure of a crowded bar is that it forces contact. Three women join him at his drum table. Look like office girls maybe. He likes the blond. They chat a bit in Danish. She asks him about his accent, asks how an American speaks such good Danish. He tells her she’s too kind, explains his ex-wife was Danish, the key word being ex, his ringless fingers resting on the table. He buys a round. More people come in forcing them closer together. She lights a cigarette. “Is it okay I am smoking near you?”
“Sure,” he says, wishing he were up-wind.
The Italian kid is singing “Nothing’s Gonna Change My World” and doing a fair job of it. Bluett studies the blond woman’s face. She is maybe 32, very full-lipped with a bright smile and light eyes. Her lips are rouged pink. And he cannot take his eyes off them. They talk about films, music. She buys a round. Nice. She lives in Albertslund. Shit.
She glances at her watch. He guesses that she’s thinking about the train. Her girlfriends have moved to another table. Her name is Birgitte. The last time he looked at his watch it was nearly 11 pm. Their glasses are full again, and he is shoulder to shoulder with her, the wall behind them, staring into her light bright eyes. He kisses her full pink lips, tastes her tongue. Then she kisses him. Kisses and smiles in the dim smokey light, hands touching. Soft lips. The Italian kid takes a break and the Scot comes on again with “The Streets of London.” The girlfriends are back, and Birgitte has to go, to get the train. She writes her name and phone number on a coaster which he slips into his pocket, gives him a last quick tongue kiss, stands for a moment pressing her breasts against his arm, smiling at him, then she waves goodbye.
Bluett sits there watching a snowbeer poster above the taps. The white flakes really seem to be falling down the night blue background. He watches, hypnotized, realizes he is getting sloshed and likes it. It occurs to him that love is a chemical. His beer is nearly empty. The Scot seems to believe that he is the vicar of Roger Whittaker in Copenhagen. He takes the coaster out of his pocket, reads what she has printed there. Birgitte Mørck. Mørk means dark in Danish, he thinks. Ironic for such a light, bright face. She told him she is a bookkeeper at the electric works near Nørreport. She has a two-year-old daughter named Astrid. Sweet name. A little girl. Albertslund.
Bluett has been to Albertslund two times in his life, the first and the last. Middle of nowhere. If hell was absence, as Thomas Aquinas or some such philosopher suggested, Albertslund was a good candidate for hell. Nothing. Nowhere. He suggested she stay the night with him, here, which was possibly some kind of somewhere, a lesser hell at least, and she smiled, as if to consider it for a moment, then said, “Call me.”
But I will never visit you in Albertslund. Ever.
The Scot sings “The Streets of London” yet again. Bluett wonders if the man is having a nervous breakdown.