…owes much to Nabokov, Joyce, and Dylan Thomas while confirming Kennedy’s reputation as a master of English prose … a whirlwind
of intense, rich language and a poetic vision of the things
that really matter in a man’s life.
—Linda Lappin, South Carolina Review
Book IV of The Copenhagen Quartet
First Runner-Up, General Fiction:
Eric Hoffer Book Awards 2007
Danish Fall: Critical Acclaim
…Danish Fall juggles skillfully and entertainingly with a dozen fates whose Danish dream threatens to end as a nightmare … juggles so it stings with suspense … at once a beautiful and tragic portrait of the capital and its soul.
—Tonny Vorm, Information (Copenhagen)
Kennedy writes of the lower points of life, of demotion and dismissal, of divorce and disappointment, but writes with a sardonic humor that relieves the mood and allows the reader to engage with the characters, both young and old. The final novel in the Quartet maintains both the standards and the attractions of the three earlier novels on life in Copenhagen.
—Bookview Ireland “Book of the Week”
… has lost none of the steam and exuberance of the previous three [novels] and this might be the best. Few writers deliver the goods with such consistency …
—Cape Cod Voice “Favorite Books From 2005”
Danish Fall offers further proof of Kennedy’s exquisite mastery of the writing craft … a beautifully sculpted novel … yet another Kennedy masterpiece.
—Liam Jennings, Irish Edition (Philadelphia)
… very sensitive, musical and melancholy stroll out into the Queen’s state … spiced with Kennedy’s Celtic humor … Kennedy’s force is his ear for good dialogue, those understated conversations between irony and intimacy of which Anglo-Saxon and Irish literature have always been world champion …
—Bo Tao Michaëlis, Politiken (Copenhagen)
Danish Fall: Excerpts
From Chapter 20:
Breathwaite could sense that Kirsten was home now. Connected by the invisible tendrils of their years together, he knew her movements. He needn’t look. From where he sat on the balcony, his back to the apartment, he knew. The aroma of her thoughts, her dreams, her concerns wafted through the labyrinth of rooms between them. Sour and sweet her breath, never foul unless she was ill, the heady fragrance of her body, sea salt, seaweed tang below, her soul the floor of an ocean. Sweet angel fish. All sweetness and light while the sun shone.
Then abruptly he recalled the turd of hers he saw floating in the bowl the other month, black and ragged as a cheap Italian cigar, ginny stinker. A sweet-ocean angel’s secret. Odd to have lived together so long and that the first time in 30 years he ever saw her shit. That was not a turd to be proud of, but certainly an interesting one. Inconsequential of course. My mistress’s shit is nothing like a rose. No need to tell her he saw that twisted, little marvel, yet he is uneasy with secret knowledge of her. If he keeps something from her, what might she keep from him? Surely it is mad to extrapolate at such length over a little ginny stinker of a turd.
What would she say if I said suddenly, burst forth with confession: I saw a piece of your shit the other day. It looked like a ginny stinker.
She would say, Your mother again?
And then he heard what he was thinking. Ginny stinker. His mother was the ginny stinker. Her angelic face, angelic name (Raffaella Belmare), her sweet nature, kind touches, her sensous Italian lips, and she was the ginny stinker. Story of his life. Incomplete puzzle. Little piles of broken images. Explanations built from grains of dust.
His mother, Raffaella Belmare, had been born out of wedlock in Naples, in Casserta. As was the custom for those born out of wedlock in Casserta, her last name was conferred upon her by the mayor, who gave her the name Belmare because her eyes were the green of a beautiful sea. Did the sin of her own mother haunt and follow her? Whatever the reason, perhaps simple lechery, perhaps neglect, perhaps just a moment’s weak hunger grown from discontent at her husband’s virility or lack of it, Mom cheated on Dad. With Jimmy Powers, handsome wiry mick who drove the van that collected our laundry once a week. Dad and I went to the one o’clock show instead of the four, to see Gregory Peck in Moby Dick, cultural experience, and when we got back, the laundry van was in the driveway, but Mom was not in the kitchen. Mom was not in the dining room. Mom was not in the basement or the living room or on the porch. Dad said loudly, “Okay, let’s see if she’s out in the backyard,” and when we were out back we heard the ignition of the laundry van kick in and then Mom came out and said, “You’re early!”
The flush of her face and edgy smile told the story. Dad said nothing, but his eyes were sad. He was a pacifist. Or was he afraid? I was not afraid. Jimmy Powers was the father of Hughie Powers with whom I went to St Gabe’s. Hughie with his chiseled face and dazzling smile of teeth, so admired by the girls. I found him in the school yard next day. His eyes were frightened as a baby’s when he saw me, and that only fueled my intention — for his fear announced the fact that he knew all about what had happened, that everybody knew all about what had happened.
I approached him, not certain what I meant to say or do. And then my right hand decided for me. It swelled up like a cement hammer and blasted him full in his fake-smiling teeth. One of them flew out and another one lodged in my knuckle. He bowed forward at the waist, whimpering, hands cupped in front of his mouth to catch the blood as if he could use it for anything once it was out.
No satisfaction at all. Solved nothing. Helped nothing. Did not ease my pain. Made it worse. I had felt so certain that action was the only viable path and learned from that, that certainty was not necessarily a good foundation for action. Best to make decisions and to act when you are not feeling so certain and self-sufficient. Certainty is a drug whose effect is fleeting and fickle.
That evening I was reprimanded in the kitchen by my father. Gently, but firmly. While my mother sat with her hand over her sensuous, angelic lips. The reprimand was unnecessary. I was already disgusted with myself for the way my knuckles had felt smashing into his teeth, for the sight of his broken tooth that I had to pick out of the skin of my knuckle.
Dad said, “You know, or ought to know, and should have thought about, the fact that Hughie Powers’ mother is in the hospital having a baby. These things have to be taken into consideration.”
Oh, Dad. Did you take into consideration that Hughie’s dad was so horny because his wife had a cake in the oven, is that it? Well why was Mom so horny, Dad?
Those mean Sunnyside streets Breathwaite had left so far behind where the currency of negotiation was a punch in the mouth or a kick in the balls. Might is right. Walk it like you talk it. Are you good with your dukes? Solved nothing. So much more civil here in the shelter of beauty and art with my dear Kirstin. She thinks all this is not important to her, but I know better. What she fails to realize is the importance of its importance to me. If we lose all this and have to move into our little summer house or into some dismal northwest-side two-room — as my own parents had to do for unclear reasons 40 years ago — her brave smile each morning will be a mirror of my failure, and she will see that in my face as surely as my mother saw it in my father’s doubt whether he was a pacifist or a coward, and it will make her sad.
Being sad is the most damaging weapon Kis has against me. She doesn’t complain or nag or bitch or argue; she just deflates, loses her sweet happy vigor, and when I ask, “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” she only says, “I’m sad.” Or, “I get sad.”
I sometimes wonder if she is fully conscious of this and the debilitating effect it has on me. The total capitulation. Calls for a reshuffle of all priorities. Only thing that matters is to undo Kis’s sadness. How tyrannical is your sweet love, how powerful in its gentleness your tyranny.
“It makes me sad.” Oh the tyranny of a sweet angel’s sadness. Sweet angels have the power to swangle you. That’s what it was, a swangling — a force that drained all color, sweetness, joy, hope from the day. Copyright that word. Coin it and copyright it. Patent it. Swangle, verb, transitive: the action of a sweet angel to crush with sadness a man’s fragile sack of gems.
Such methods of withholding: no morning kiss, no smile, no goodbye when you leave for the office unless you go in to her and say, “No goodbye? No kiss?” And you have to lean down for it, and it is not much of a kiss or a smile, and she doesn’t see you to the door as she otherwise always made a point of doing, waving as you got onto the elevator down to your day.
Now she stepped out onto the balcony with a smile. “You’re early,” she said. And bent to kiss his mouth. Then straightened to take in his honor guard. “Bad day?”
“It just occurred to me to claim this rare afternoon of October light for myself.”
“Good idea!” she said. “You should do that more often. Worry them a little. Make them appreciate you more.”
She will know, he thought. If I am not careful, she will tune in and suck the information from the secret recesses of my mind. Or read it subliminally in the language that my body transmits without consulting me.
But she left him with a smile to tend to her own affairs, and he went on to the Black Bush and the recollection of a conversation he had with his youngest son, Jes, some three years ago, when the boy had still seemed to consider his father worthy of listening to.
Danish Fall: Excerpts
From Chapter 26:
Jaeger opened the white, wrought-iron gate and stepped into the little front garden of the house he had owned for ten years and to which he no longer even possessed a key. The grass, front and back, was still green and tight as a golf course. Vita’s pride. She practised her putting here. Galf, she called it, a parody of Gentoftian high Danish which to Jaeger was beginning to sound less like a parody than an assimilation. Let her. She had taken up golf after their split. He pictured himself telling her, “Well some people work and some play,” but quickly dismissed the thought. Nothing but trouble in that direction.
Beneath his arm he had a little gift for her, a book of golf cartoons wrapped in silver paper and tied with a dark-green ribbon. Last time he came he’d got the idea of bringing a little present as a surprise and saw that the gesture had startled and moved her, and he was eager to repeat that success.
He gazed from the grass to the agreeably uneven assortment of trees — larch, lilac, pine, the brittle rose vines which in spring and summer blossomed with fat blooms of red, yellow, white. The forsythia hedge was nearly bald now in the grey, darkening afternoon, but in the eye of memory he saw it as an explosion of bright-yellow late-April leaves, his two yellow-haired baby girls standing before it with their big, sweet smiles. Returning here was always like a dream fragment for him, the unreal real. A return to the life he had always assumed temporary until it took roots, grew clinging vines he had to hack away, and somehow he had managed not to realize the result would be pain, blood. Yet had he not decided — Now! Quick! — he was certain they all would have died slowly and with a greater, all-consuming pain.
I feel so fucking guilty, he had told his psychologist.
So feel guilty for a moment, then move on. The guilt helps no one. Learn from it.
But I did a terrible thing. To marry a woman I didn’t love was …
The mistake of a confused man. Move on.
But the babies …
As a very wise man once said, Harald: Shit happens. Move on.
Now he moved on down the garden path to the neat, white front door with its neat rectangle of little, square, white-curtained windows. He pressed the bell and listened to its pleasant chime.
Vita opened the door wide and looked at him. Then she closed it halfway and kept staring. She wore tailored jeans and a tailored tweed jacket. She looked terrific. He held out the gift. “Hi,” he said. “How are you? How are the girls? Here’s a little present for you.”
She did not take the package and she did not speak, only stared at him, and she did not step aside to let him enter.
“You look great,” he said. “Have you lost weight?” Vita was slim as an eel with close-cropped yellow hair that glittered silver. She was eight years older than Jaeger. She let the question hang in the air. Then she said, “What have you been up to? Who is she? I can see you’ve met someone. Again.”
It did not occur to Jaeger that he did not have to answer. “Do you remember Birgitte Sommer?”
“From your office? She’s married.”
“We, well, it just kind of happened, I … ”
“Oh I know all about you and things that just happen. You really take the bloody biscuit. You desert one wife, then steal one from another man. Do they have children, too?”
“No, I … ”
“Because I ought to warn her not to let you be alone with them.”
“What do … ”
“I have to ask you straight out now, and I want an honest answer.”
“What? I … ”
“Did you bathe the girls last time you had them?”
It took a moment for the question to make sense to him. Was she complaining that they were dirty when he returned them to her? Then he remembered he had taken them to the deer park and it was muddy so he washed them under the telephone shower back at his place. “Well, yes, I … ”
She stared at him, lips slightly parted with distaste, eyes narrowed, and she whispered, “How could you do that? To your own daughters.”
“What are you … They’re my daughters … They needed a bath … ”
“They do not need to have you undressing them and … You disgust me.”
“Where are they? It’s my weekend to … ”
“You will not see them. I have to consider what to do about this now.”
“You can’t do this. I’ll complain to the … ”
“Go ahead. And I will tell them what you did.”
“What I did? I didn’t do anything. I gave them a bath because they were muddy. I sprayed them with the telephone shower. There was nothing.”
“I knew you were sick, but I really never expected this. Now get out of here.” And she closed the door.
Jaeger was trembling. He rang the bell, knocked. “Vita you can’t do … ”
The door opened again, and Jaeger started. It was not Vita but her father, Frank, a short muscular man with kinky, yellow hair and a broad, porcine face. He stepped close, and Jaeger could smell coffee on his breath.
“What do you want?” he demanded.
Jaeger was less afraid of the man than of what he himself might do to him. He felt his right fist ball up. His breath was ragged, and he saw the bulky little man as a door behind a door blocking him from his daughters. He wanted to bury his fist right dead in the middle of the piggy face. Words rasped from his throat in a grating whisper.
“I want to see my daughters!”
“You can get the hell out of here,” Frank snapped. “We know what went on. It’s not going to happen again.”
“That’s a fucking lie, Frank. Repeat it, and I’ll smash your fucking face for you!”
Frank spoke over his shoulder as he shoved the door between them. “Call the police, Vita! He’s violent!”
Jaeger put his shoulder to the door, and they struggled from each side of it. Moving his foot for traction he lost balance and the door slammed on his little finger. He yelled out with pain. The door opened a crack, and Frank muttered, “Sorry,” then slammed it again and the finger was caught once more. Jaeger bellowed, and the door opened a crack so he could pull his finger free. “Sorry,” Frank muttered again and shut the door. Jaeger heard the deadbolt mesh shut, and he stood there on the little brick stoop, cradling his injured finger, muttering, “Fuck fuck fuck fuck,” and felt the shame of tears rolling from his eyes.