“Sliver”

Sliver

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Ira Levin’s 1991 novel. I read a hardcover Bantam Books first edition from the library.

Buy the Book.

2 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 2

Seen the Movie: Nope (and never plan to).

The Plot:

Editor Kay Norris’ new NYC apartment building, notorious for a series of untimely deaths, is also bugged with cameras for a single, secret voyeur.

Sliver is somehow too short and in desperate need of editing. Levin is unusually sloppy here but, being Levin, delivers a story that is hard to put down in the second half. Someone needed to go through this manuscript with a red pen and ask some basic questions, like: Why are you keeping the identity of the voyeur secret in the first third of the story? What good does that do for the reader? The reveal isn’t that surprising and the awkward shuffling to keep the secret for sixty pages is distracting and annoying. Just tell us who it is and allow us to be in on it. Or keep the cameras a secret until Key realizes what’s going on. That would have been something; an excellent reveal to give the reader a Rosemary’s Baby puzzle piece pleasure (Oh, that’s how he knew x, y and z… That’s why he said those things!).

But Sliver is the anti-Rosemary’s Baby. It does so much wrong that RB does right. Until the closing pages of RB, you’re not entirely sure if Rosemary’s paranoia is based in reality. In Sliver, you immediately know that someone is watching tenants, that all paranoia is valid. The only beat that Levin employs which I adore is having Kay drawn to the voyeurism despite knowing how morally shitty and wrong it is. She’s an all right character, all things considered: smart, independent, a fan of good sex, a woman with a career who takes that career seriously. Too bad she’s stuck in a subpar book.


One

[1] Reference:

Watching MacEvoy spieling about the central air conditioning and the Poggenpohl kitchen.

(p.4)

 

Poggenpohn is a German ‘Superbrand’ specializing in kitchen cabinets. Poggenpohl claims to be the oldest kitchen brand in the world, founded in 1892.

[2] Reference:

Did she really want to leave Bank Street?

(p.4)

 

Bank Street is a primarily residential street in the West Village part of Greenwich Village in the borough of Manhattan. It runs for a total length of about 2,330 feet. Previous residents include Grace Jones, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, John Cage, Lauren Bacall, Willa Cather, Patricia Highsmith; Sid Vicious died there.

[3] Reference:

“The Cooper-Hewitt Museum is a block away.”

(p.7)

 

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum is a design museum located in the Upper East Side’s Museum Mile in Manhattan. Its collections and exhibitions explore approximately 240 years of design aesthetic and creativity. It was established in 1896.

[4] Reference:

A tan Parsons table and a gilt-framed mirror.

(p.11)

 

The Parsons table is a modernist square or rectangular table whose four legs are square in cross-section, flush with the edges of the top, and equal to it in thickness. The Parsons table was designed by Jean-Michel Frank while he was working at Parsons Paris, then known as the Paris Atelier.

[5] Reference:

“Is that by any chance a Hopper [painting]?”

“Don’t I wish (…) It’s by an artist named Zwick who admires Hopper.”

(p.14-15)

 

This might be Rosemary Zwick (1925 – 1995), an American printmaker and sculptor.

[6] References:

The first cassette of John Gielgud reading Dombey and Son.

(p.18)

 

Sir Arthur John Gielgud (1904 – 2000) was an English actor and theater director whose career spanned eight decades.

Dombey and Son is a novel by Dickens. It follows the fortunes of a shipping firm, whose owner is frustrated at not having a son to follow him in the job, and initially rejects his daughter’s love, eventually becoming reconciled with her before his death. It was first published in monthly parts between 1846 and 1848.

[7] I don’t understand this sentence. Is it a reference? What’s “the week’s man” mean?

He saw the week’s man from Yoshiwara setting the low dark table for two.

(p.18)

 

Yoshiwara was a famous yukaku (red-light district) in Edo, present-day Tokyo, Japan.

[8] Reference:

They ordered – veal paillards, grilled salmon.

(p.28)

 

A piece of beef or veal usually pounded thin and grilled.

[9] Reference:

The belted white coat was the one that had been on Elle.

(p.31)

Hell if I can track down which issue of Elle this was, but knowing Levin’s track record for specific references (see Rosemary’s Baby review, note [27]), I’m sure a belted white coat was on the cover at some point.

[10] Reference:

She put books on the shelves while Claire Bloom read To the Lighthouse.

(p.32)

 

To the Lighthouse is a 1927 novel by Virginia Woolf. The novel centers on the Ramsay family and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920. The novel includes little dialogue and almost no action; most of it is written as thoughts and observations.

[11] Levin hates chaff, enough to make you wonder why he’s even writing fiction. So much of the book looks and sounds like this:

They walked on.

Joggers bounded past them.

A red-suited teen.

(p.39)

[12] Reference:

“This is the house Robert Chambers lived in.”

“I know the name….”

“The preppie who strangled the girl in the park.”

(p.40)

I vaguely recall this story, but let’s have a refresher:

Robert Chambers (b.1966), nicknamed the “Preppie Killer” by the media, pled guilty to manslaughter in the death of 18-year-old Jennifer Levin, whom he killed in Central Park during the early morning hours of August 26, 1986. Levin’s reputation was attacked in the media after her death, while Chambers was portrayed as a good “altar boy”. Chambers was free on bond for the two years of his trial. His defense was that Levin’s death had occurred during “rough sex.” Chambers served a 15-year sentence and was released in 2003. In 2008 he was sentenced to 19 years on drug charges.

I’m not surprised Ira Levin was drawn to include a reference to this in Sliver; along with the victim sharing his last name, the claims of Chambers to police when he was questioned (saying the scratches on his face and arms were from his cat) are ironic in light of Sliver’s climax. Also, weirdly enough, William Baldwin starred as Chambers in a 1989 TV movie, then starred as the Pete character (renamed Zeke) in the film version of Sliver in 1993.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any information about Jennifer Levin’s life.

[13] Reference:

Everyone there for champagne and blini and caviar.

(p.42)

 

A blini (sometimes spelled bliny) or, sometimes, blin, is a Russian and Ukrainian pancake traditionally made from wheat or (more rarely) buckwheat flour and served with smetana (sour cream), tvorog (dairy product), butter, caviar and other garnishes.

[14] Reference:

“He could have a pied-a-terre here.”

(p.55)

 

A pied-a-terre (French for “foot on the ground”) is a small living unit, e.g., apartment or condominium, usually located in a large city some distance away from an individual’s primary residence. The term implies use of the property as a temporary second residence.

[15] Reference:

Humming “Strike Up the Band,” she switched the bathroom light off.

(p.63)

 

Strike Up the Band” is a 1927 song composed by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin with the collaboration of Millie Raush. It was written for the 1927 musical Strike Up the Band. The song was also used in the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney 1940 film Strike Up the Band.

[16] This is gross, but Pete is supposed to be a terrible, gross character. It just makes it hard to understand why Kay falls in love with him. Casual, enjoyable sex is one thing, emotional devotion (after a man tells you that you look and sound like his dead mother) is another.

“Your voice is like [Thea Marshall’s], too.” He leaned at her over the sofa (…) “So a moment was all it took for me to be attracted,” he said, “as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Dr. Palme says it’s universal, no exceptions whatsoever. The Oedipus complex, I mean. She was my mother. Thea Marshall.”

(p.69)


Two

[17] Reference:

His apartment furnished in simple Conran’s contemporary under a layer of mess….

(p.78)

 

Sir Terence Orby Conran (b.1931) is an English designer, restaurateur, retailer and writer. Conran started his own design practice in 1956 with the Summa furniture range and designing a shop for Mary Quant. His later retail companies include the Conran Shop and FSC-certified wood furniture maker Benchmark Furniture. He has written over 50 books that reflect his design philosophy.

[18] First half of this, I have no problem with. Second half… what?

She knew it wasn’t going to be a long-term relationship, not with thirteen years between them – and didn’t want it to be, for his sake; he ought to have children.

(p.78)

Pete never expresses interest in children and children play no apparent part in Kay’s life (or anyone she knows), so this thought feels like it’s coming from nowhere.

[19] Reference:

Shoved onstage in the Group Theatre production of Waiting for Lefty.

(p.86)

 

Waiting for Lefty is a 1935 play by the American playwright Clifford Odets. This was his first play to be produced. Consisting of a series of related vignettes, the entire play is framed by a meeting of cab drivers who are planning a labor strike. The framing uses the audience as part of the meeting.

[20] References:

They (…) danced to “Let’s Do It” with air between them. (…)

They danced in the crowd of dancers, to “Easy to Love.”

(p.116-17)

 

“Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” (also known as “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” or simply “Let’s Do It”) is a popular song written in 1928 by Cole Porter. It was introduced in Porter’s first Broadway success, the musical Paris (1928).

“(You’d Be So) Easy to Love” is a popular song written by Cole Porter for William Gaxton to sing in the 1934 Broadway show Anything Goes. However Gaxton was unhappy about its wide vocal range and it was cut from the musical. Porter re-wrote it for the 1936 film Born to Dance, where it was introduced under its alternate title, “Easy to Love.”

[21] With such sparse prose, there’s no excuse for using the same stage direction three times in four lines.

He smiled – John Henderson’s smile. John’s son. “What do you want first?” he asked, closing the door.

“Whatever, darling,” she said. Smiled at him.

He smiled in the pale blue-white light, looking beyond her.

(p.119)

[22] Reference:

Vladimir Horowitz was there once.”

(p.121)

 

Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) was an American classical pianist and composer born in the Russian Empire. He is recognized as one of the greatest pianists of all time.

[23] Where does this saying come from, anyway?

“Give me a third-floor window and I become a real Nosy Parker.”

(p.124)

From phrases.org.uk:

A ‘nosy parker’, sometimes spelled ‘nosey parker’, is a person of an overly inquisitive or prying nature. (…)

The person most often associated with the phrase ‘nosy parker’ is Matthew Parker, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 to 1575. In a systematic attempt to obtain a detailed account of the qualifications and activities of the clergy he ordered several unpopular inquiries. This, and the good archbishop’s impressively prominent nose, might be thought more than enough for his peers to have nicknamed him ‘nosy Parker’. The problem with this story is that his peers did no such thing.

The phrase ‘nosy parker’ dates from the end of the 19th century. The popular Victorian novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon edited the Belgravia Magazine at that time and ‘nosy parker’ appeared there in the May 1890 edition, which seems to be the first example of the phrase’s use in print.

[24] Reference:

He turned the other way. Watched the Frick Museum sliding by….

(p.141)

 

The Frick Collection is an art museum located in the Henry Clay Frick House on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. It houses the collection of industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849 – 1919). It includes work by Jean-Honore Fragonard, Johannes Vermeer, Jacob van Ruisdael and Piero della Francesca. It also has extraordinary temporary exhibits, including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Fabritius’s The Goldfinch.

[25] Reference:

“He’s got Anne Tyler coming in at four and he wants me to be there. She isn’t happy where she is now.”

(p.146)

 

Anne Tyler (b.1941) is an American novelist, short story writer, and literary critic. She has published 22 novels, including Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982), The Accidental Tourist (1985) and Breathing Lessons (1988). All three were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, with Breathing Lessons winning the prize in 1989.


Three

[26] Reference:

“That’s going to be the most famous car in the country. She’s going to get a date with Morris from Nine Lives.”

(p.188)

 

Morris the Cat (voiced by John Erwin) is the advertising mascot for 9Lives brand cat food, appearing on its packaging and in many of its television commercials, first appearing in 1968. All cats to play Morris have been rescues.


Sliver is only recommended if you LOVE Ira Levin and need something after Rosemary’s Baby, A Kiss Before Dying, The Stepford Wives and Boys From Brazil (in that order). Or, read Sliver if you want to write an interesting paper about an author retreading a previous hit (RB) to lifeless effect.

Sliver is flat on the page. I didn’t write down a single enjoyable line. All the notes I took were for references to look up and things I didn’t like. Levin gives little more than stage directions with no flavor to make the city, the time, or any of the characters come alive and really, this should have just been a script for a play (even down to the three-act structure).

Next Friday, reviewing an author I found through a reference in a Laura van den Berg book: Yoko Tawada’s The Naked Eye.

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