K. Weber Is Moved to Tears As She Reads From Her Novel In the Heat

Tonight at 7 pm, at Politics and Prose in Dupont Circle, Katharine Weber will read from her novel Triangle, about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. She read last week on the Upper West side in New York, and filed this report:

My Night on a Hot Schul Roof

I prefer to think of myself as someone who doesn’t
waste time complaining about or suffering publicly
from jet lag, spam email, or the weather, but last
Monday night was nearly unbearably hot and humid, even
on the rooftop of Congregation Ansche Chesed on West
100th Street, where I had been invited to read in
their Scribblers on the Roof series, paired with
Shalom Auslander. I have no recollection of saying
anything especially obnoxious or indiscreet to my
friend Jimmy as we rode up to the roof in the elevator
with a third person, but that person turned out to be
Auslander, and he wasn’t very friendly to me the rest
of the evening, so maybe I did.

But he may have been irked that I read first, since my reading, from my
novel about the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire of
1911, does have its drama and pathos, and his reading,
from his story collection Beware of God, was funny and
ironic and decidedly lighter. I had suggested to the
organizer that I read second/last, but she wanted me
to read first and didn’t want to change the order she
had decided on, so I did read first.

The crowd, such as it was (our biggest competition was
probably anything air-conditioned), was wilting in the
heat, surprising tiny insects were biting my ankles
the way they do in the dunes at dusk, and the
microphone was picking up the occasional stray breeze,
but somehow my reading went well anyway. I was quite
touched that Bud Freedman — son of Rose Freedman, the
last living survivor of the Triangle fire whose death
at age 107 in 2001 was one of the inspirations for my
novel — had come to hear my reading, with his wife
and daughter. I have trouble keeping from crying
anyway, when I read from my novel (does that sound
utterly narcissistic, this business of moving myself
to tears when I read from my novel?), and the
layeredness of the meanings of his presence added to
my habitual feeling of being on the edge of
overwhelmed at certain passages. But reading this
first chapter several times a week since Triangle came
out last month, I have learned to keep back just
enough from it so as to be able to read without
actually sobbing, and I managed it again.

During the Q & A that followed my reading, a large
dishevelled man commented that the comma-less flow of
language reminded him of Ulysses. This absurdly
flattering remark took on larger retrospective
significance when I learned later that my flatterer
was Marshall Berman.

After a book and cold drink selling interlude,
Auslander read parts of two funny and strange stories,
and I wished he had read all of the first fabulous
one, about the consequences of creating golems to do
your household tasks, instead. The second story was an
extended riff about the characters in Peanuts
responding to the death of their creator by declaring
themselves either Schultzians or Pumpkinites, and it
probably works better on the page than it does out

I looked for him to say goodbye as I was leaving, but
he had already left. I walked thirty blocks down
Broadway with my cousin Stephanie, who had arrived
just after my reading ended, and we talked mostly
about the strangeness of our fathers, brothers who
left behind twin legacies of tragic mystery and
failure. If anything, the air at eleven p.m. had grown
hotter and more humid. A good night to think about
fires, and golems, and inexplicable fathers. K. Weber Is Moved to Tears As She Reads From Her Novel In the Heat