ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part Two, Chapter 114: Fame and Recognition
Daniel Lazar, the literary agent at Writers House, turns down Nine Finches and a Parrot, but another top New York agent, Gail Hochman, who runs her own agency and has for a long time, asks to see the complete manuscript.
Before I mail it, I bless the manuscript with Ernie’s silver cross, the one he bought at Sanborns in Mexico City. I talk to Ernie as I pass the silver cross over his work. “Ernie, you called Nine Finches and a Parrot an allegory of our times, and it is, but there’s an eternal quality to it, too. It’s an allegory of all times. I bless your work with this silver cross. I wish you were here, by my side, to say your own prayers. I wish — ”
No one can grant me my most fervent wish, and it’s not that The Finches be published. That’s not what I want. That’s not what would make me happy.
For many years Ernie’s most fervent wish was for his novels to be published, but I don’t think that would have made him truly happy, either. That’s the strange thing. Maybe he didn’t know what would make him happy.
One Christmas season Bill Weber, his fraternity brother, arranged a reading and book-signing for Ernie in Pewee Valley, where Bill lived. Ernie ordered extra copies of his memoir and headed out on the icy streets with Joshua. When they arrived at the Little Colonel Playhouse, where the reading was to be held, Ernie told Bill: “I don’t like to read in public. Joshua will read whichever chapter he chooses. I’ll be there to talk of the book and to sign it, if anyone wants me to, but I won’t read.”
Ernie was a shy man. He didn’t even read his work aloud in the privacy of our home. When we did a final edit, I read aloud the chapters while he listened and made corrections on the fly.
“I used to want fame and recognition,” he told me. “That’s when I was younger and didn’t know any better. Now, just give me the money and let me be.”