Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2

July 14, 2015 by

Susan Shapiro: “A Jewish Man Who’s Never Been Married is Schlepping a Different Kind of Luggage Around”

whatsneversaid_small2Just as the topic of professor/student relationships is heating up (Harvard and other universities are now banning such liaisons), novelist, essayist and humor writer Susan Shapiro offers her own take on the highly charged subject in her captivating new novel, What’s Never Said. Lila Penn, a naïve, fatherless young woman from Wisconsin, comes to the big city to study poetry and falls, head-first, for Daniel Wildman, her distinguished professor, who also happens to be twenty years her senior. Decades after their tangled involvement ends, she arranges a meeting in downtown Manhattan. But the shocking encounter blindsides Lila, causing her to question her memory—and her sanity. Moving back and forth between Greenwich Village, Vermont, and Tel Aviv, Shapiro slowly unravels the painful history that has haunted both Daniel and Lila for thirty years. In the excerpt below, Lila’s mother encounters her daughter’s new love interest for the first time. 

 
At the book table, Lila’s mother took ten dollars to buy Cormick’s Celtic Songs of the Heartland. Before Lila could stop her, she bumped into Daniel.
 
“Professor Wildman,” Lila said, hoping he didn’t see her mom  holding his enemy’s book.  “You killed tonight.”
 
Daniel thrust out his arm. “The infamous Hannah Lerner,” he said, his eyes catching Cormick’s book slipping into her purse.
 
“The infamous Daniel Wildman.” They shook robustly.
 
“Your daughter is very special.”
 
“I appreciate your kindness to her.  She loves it here.”
 
“We love her too,” he said. “I mean, the program. She’s one of our best students.”
 
A group of aspiring authors interrupted.
 
“Your public awaits you,” Lila said, hoping nobody could tell she was into him.
               
“I hope you’re having a nice birthday,” he threw in before walking off.
               
Lila waved, putting on her coat,  watching Daniel leave without her.
 
“That coat looks lovely,” her mother said, straightening the collar of the black jacket  she’d bought Lila on sale at Loehmann’s. In the store it looked regal; now Lila wished it were lighter, cashmere.
They walked out the side door.  Flushed from seeing Daniel, Lila steered her mom toward a bench.  They sat down.
“Are you sleeping with him?” Hannah asked.
           
Lila’s mouth opened. So much for the subterfuge. “No. I’m not.”
           
“Why not?”
           
“Why do you think we are?” Lila was stunned by her bluntness. 
              
 “The way he was trying not to look at you. And the way he was trying not to look at me,” she said. “He’s obviously crazy about you.”
                
“You think so?” Lila was jolted by how casual her mom sounded. And wildly intrigued. But Daniel  hadn’t even tried to kiss her.
             
“You’re only attracted to him intellectually?” her mom probed.
               
“No, I’m totally into him. But he doesn’t want to get involved.” Lila could never keep secrets from her. “He won’t date a student.”
               
“He certainly wants to date you.”
                
“You think so?”
               
Her mother nodded. “No doubt in the world.”
                
Lila was thrilled, especially since her mom was on the psychic side. Uncle Ezra called her a Jewish witch. “Did you catch his line about loving me too?”
                
“I bet he doesn’t know any of his other students’ birthdays,” Hannah smiled. “But you said he grew up motherless?  How old was he when he lost her?”
               
“Twelve and a half.”
               
“Oy, right before his bar mitzvah.” Hannah nodded vigorously, as if that explained everything. “Some people never recover from that kind of loss.”
 
Was her mom talking about herself? Or Lila not recovering from her father’s death?
“That’s why I wanted you to get out of Baraboo. So you wouldn’t marry the first guy who got you in bed, like I did.”
          
“You were madly in love with Dad,” Lila said.
               
“I was. But don’t  screw up your dreams for a man.”
           
“Daniel’s helping me,” Lila said. “He introduced me to his whole New York gang.”
           
“You want to marry him or be him?” Hannah asked her daughter. 
              
Wow. Lila was mind blown by the thought. “Some profs here  get way too close to students. But Daniel doesn’t. He’s very moralistic.”
               
“Morals are good, my shayna maidel.” She used Lila’s Yiddish nickname. “But there might be a reason he’s single.”  
           
“He hasn’t found the right one yet because it’s me,” Lila said.
 
“I know how exciting an older man can be.” She moved closer, whispered, “When I was a secretary at Madison newspaper company, I went out with my boss. He was twenty years older.”
           
“Really?” Lila  never heard this story before.  It was disturbing and dazzling,  all kinds of mysteries hiding behind her mother’s eyes.  “When you were younger than me?  Was he hot for you? What happened?”
           
“I wound up falling for your dad. An older divorced guy with a son was too complicated.”
               
“Daniel’s not divorced or anything!” Lila told her. “He never had a wife or kids. It would be way worse if he had that baggage.”
               
“Honey, a Jewish man who’s never been married by forty-two is schlepping a different kind of luggage around,” her mother said. “One with a dead body in it.”