Monte Carlo Days & Nights

Susan Tepper's
Latest Release
‘Monte Carlo Days & Nights’

Susan Tepper’s seventh book, Monte Carlo Days & Nights, is a slim novel about two individuals on a weeklong holiday in Monte Carlo.

It is not a love story, and there is very little romance involved. What is involved is a lot of lust, or sex, beautiful clothes along with beautiful food, expensive hotels and of course the glittering backdrop of Monte Carlo.

It is not a whirlwind tour of the place or even a whirlwind affair. Instead, Tepper manages to feed the reader with slow, simmering details in each of her twenty-two very short and concise chapters that weave a tale of how money equals power, and how often it is the woman who is the one with the least power.

The readers take the journey with Tepper’s protagonist much like voyeurs peering into the intimate workings of her week. We get a first-row seat to their daily routine of breakfast in bed at their posh hotel, followed by sex, then we get to dine poolside with the ultra-elite, then more sex before dinner, followed by a quick drive to one of the many exquisite restaurants in “Monte” — all the insiders just call it Monte, we are told. There are lavish shopping trips too, and all the while the readers are treated to a first-rate view of Monte Carlo with its cobblestone streets, and the ever-present deep turquoise sea. After dinner, always a walk through the casino to show off the flight attendant’s lovely youthfulness and impeccable wardrobe and then the nightly before sleep sex.

But even though her lover is wealthy, he puts her in her place and shows her she is not completely worthy of his attentions with subtle reminders. Like the time he admonishes her for always ordering the very expensive foie gras before dinner. “I am addicted to the foie gras,” she tells him, her cheeks reddening, and yet he thinks nothing of shopping for gifts for his staff at Gucci, buying them all watches, but he doesn’t buy one for her.

Underlying all this lust and sumptuous lifestyle, is the main theme that is woven throughout the story, one of separateness and the unbalance of power.

Tepper also tells a tale of sadness. In each chapter we lurch forward hoping our unnamed protagonist, who we know only by her profession as a flight attendant based in New York City, is trying to claim the love of her unnamed lover, a rock star manager based in L.A. But not only are they living on opposite coasts, it’s also apparent that they are living two very different and unequal economic lives.

This is a story of haves and have nots, and the flight attendant, despite her beautiful wardrobe (which we come to understand she has bought at deep discounts around the world on her layovers) cannot compete with her very wealthy one-week lover. The message is clear: money equals power, and without that power, most of us would be reduced emotionally and intellectually as the flight attendant is throughout the story. She finds herself unable to hold her own in this rock star manager’s glittering world of money. “I’m afraid of most men who have achieved a pinnacle of success that I will never reach,” the flight attendant says.

Tepper’s tightly written prose provides precise detail of an uneven exchange of intimacy and the uneven balance of power between two lovers from very different worlds. Her short chapters are able to stand alone and in fact, many were first published in literary magazines as flash fiction prior to the book’s publication. However, the chapters flow in smooth transition, linking each moment to the next. It’s as if one were watching a film as it follows the two lovers while they wander the streets of Monte.

The book is full of lush imagery of Monte Carlo and its surrounding tiny villages, the setting for the week-long love affair. This is the backdrop of the sumptuous meals taken by the seaside in the late summer evenings while the sun sets its orangeness on the crystal-clear waters of the ever-present sea. “The restaurant is about a twenty-minute drive from Monte. He takes the lower corniche. I can’t take my eyes off the gorgeous deep turquoise sea. I’ve never seen water like this,” she says.

However, there are fleeting moments when we get to root for Tepper’s protagonist alongside her lover, like the time they find themselves walking with Gucci shopping bags in hand and are accosted by some street men who threaten them. He is frozen, not knowing what to do. She stands up to them in a scrappy way and defuses the scene. He is in awe of her for that one moment, but she deflects his praise and belittles what happened by saying that she has dealt with worse people on the airplane. Here we see her power that is somehow not equal to the power of his money.

In the end, Tepper’s protagonist realizes that her beautiful clothes can’t cover up the fact that she can’t compete economically with her wealthy lover. She sleeps on a pull-out sofa in her rent controlled apartment in New York, while he sleeps on a custom-made mattress in L.A. She compares his “great life” to hers and reminds herself that just a month ago she was cleaning the toilets of the airplanes during a union strike.

This is a story about power, cleverly disguised in a novel about lust and excess set against the drop-dead beauty of Monte Carlo, a place most of us will never experience firsthand. That this enchanted place is out of reach for many is not lost on our protagonist. In the end, you may agree with the flight attendant when she says, “Being here with him is fabulous and terrible at once.”

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Susan Tepper’s 
Monte Carlo Days & Nights

By David Ackley

At first glance, Susan Tepper’s novella Monte Carlo Days & Nights seemed on the light side: an American man and woman, she on the north side of her twenties, an attractive Airline “stew,” he a fortyish executive for a music company, on a weeks’ vacation together in Monte Carlo, a place that has always seemed to me as comically ersatz and overblown as Fredonia – though I like Susan’s work, particularly her masterful short fiction.

For me the sense of lightness, however, was quickly dispelled by her control of her means, whatever else she might be up to. In this work she marries the intensity of focus, the crisp delineation and the vivid, but pruned imagery of short fiction, with the unfolding of a novelistic narrative and a long look at character, dovetailing the two in short bits that are somewhat complete in themselves but also serve as chapters in the longer narrative, which for the most part, plays out over their week in Monte Carlo.

Aside from its overall construction, the language of the book, which is in essence the voice of the woman who is the first person narrator – nameless, so far as I could tell, as is her male paramour – is terse, in short crisp not terribly descriptive sentences. This is not meant as criticism by the way, just a comment on the approach, which favors primary colors, depends mainly on nouns and verbs, and simple declarative sentences and a vocabulary that is direct and declarative, more Hemingway, say, than Edith Wharton. Which is in no way to say that the text is not complex, but rather that the complexities occur within some fairly strict limits and have to do less with exploiting language and more with representing the imperatives of an individual’s personality and desires confronting a social world that so structures and directs those desires that it is impossible to say at a given moment what they consist of, where ultimately they come from or tend toward, and not only whether they are “authentic,” but what that authenticity might, at bottom, consist of if, indeed, it could ever be plumbed.

Once on an Air France flight coming into Logan from Paris, my wife and I sat facing two stewardesses, attractive, experienced, smooth and pleasant, who had pampered us and the other passengers for the long tiresome flight back to reality from our particular stay in paradise. They were belted into seats just in front of and facing us in the economy compartment, the captain having ordered seatbelts because we were circling that grim New England airport, over rooftops and glimpses of harbor, through a thick patchy fog, speeding up and slowing down for the better part of an hour in an invisible queue of planes waiting like ours for permission to land. My fear was not at all assuaged when I looked at the face of the senior of the two stewardesses as she glanced behind her toward the cabin with her eyes showing white all around, failing for once the requirement to divert our attention from the essential fact that we were being propelled at high speed, under dicey conditions, above the safety of earth in what bore an uncomfortable resemblance to a flying coffin. The nature of the occupation being to distract means that the distractor is in the position of having to see what others can avoid.

This is spelled out in an early chapter where the narrator describes cleaning up the planes that she and the other stewardesses have to undertake when the regular cleaning crews go on strike, a task described in the most clinical and therefore squalid detail: the sweeping of gum-clotted carpets, the fingering of cigarette butts from ash-trays and worst of all, the cleaning of lavatories and the pumping out of the vile blue chemical which holds the passengers’ various digestive emanations in suspension, spattering the protagonist despite the protection of coveralls, rubber gloves, helmet and goggles.

No surprise that the various Amazon reviews I read have focused on many different aspects of the book, because one of the characteristics of Susan Tepper’s considerable art is to engender a number of possible meanings, but I was surprised by how few — only one review, I think – even mentioned the plane cleaning episode, which underpins much of the ambivalence of the work. The narrator’s struggle is to respond to the surfaces of life, its beautiful if artificial manifestations, and preserve them from the ugliness and squalor that keep thrusting in. She may be romantic in her yearnings and inclinations, but her – almost literal – immersion in such realities, won’t let her avoid them whenever they appear. She can never overlook or unsee what has been seen, except by willing herself to look away. This encircles every moment of pleasure, aesthetic or sensual, with a ruthless analytic scrutiny which undermines it: only the oblivion of sex is a reliable anodyne to disillusion, and even their lovemaking, toward the end, is infiltrated with the possibility that her lover has equated her with the Bangkok whores he looks forward to patronizing on his next sojourn abroad.

A Marxist critic might have a field day with Tepper’s book by exploring in detail how many of the incidents, how many of its reference points are in one sense or another economic. It is tempting to follow that course, for there is no escaping the transactional nature of the interactions, whether a friendly female photographer casually mentioning she wants to send the snaps of the narrator and her man out on the web; the gambler who grabs her arm to hold her near him “for luck,” and then pays her off from his winnings, sickening her, even as her lover has jovially allowed it to happen, as if temporarily leasing her out to this stranger; and the repeated shopping, comparison of this commodity or that, this pot versus that Limoges, and the pricing of all things at every level from love to breakfast …one could go on almost indefinitely.

But to go down that road would be to turn a different inquiry into something narrower, more sociological or political than perhaps intended. The true crisis of the book is the narrator’s struggle, not in innocence, for she is too knowing to be easily deceived by the surfaces all around her, to find a space – a last space, I’m tempted to say, for she has seen many –  here in this little paradise of dreams, beauty and wealth where her wish to be appreciated, loved and valued for her own worth will be allowed. For if it can’t happen in Monte Carlo, with the putative man of her dreams, then where?

What is moving about the book is how valiantly the narrator struggles – with herself, as all meaningful struggle is – between her own wish to lose herself in the appearances, and to find in them romance and the honesty in her that sees the ugliness lurking cheek by jowl with every appearance. That this struggle is more than merely “romantic;” or socially aspirational, but one for the survival of the authentic self in a world where, like they say, everything, even you and me, is some kind of commodity – that it is existential for this woman and subject to despair, and therefore is the material of tragedy, you might have to take my word for, even after you have read it.

But before you dismiss the notion, consider this passage on page 34, where the narrator and her boyfriend in their bathing suits are drinking Perrier and tanning at poolside, on a hotel rooftop terrace where the luxury and calm has been disturbed by several wealthy old women enraged that their husbands have been ogling the insouciantly naked girls sitting on the edge of the pool. That the narrator’s disgust has perhaps turned on herself with the understanding that if she wants to be part of this she will have to be implicated in all of it, comes in this concluding passage of the chapter:

The pool boy comes over and I order another Perrier and pretend to be having fun. The noise and commotion increases. Two of the wives get out of their chaises and approach the naked girls. Demanding they cover up. The French girls just arch their backs laughing.

Finally I stand up, too, moving toward the railing. A long way down is the sparkling Mediterranean. Monte’s hilly streets in the opposite direction.

I’m wishing the crazy wives would just shut up. This sort of thing disturbs me. Or maybe something else. I don’t know. Being here with him is fabulous and terrible at once. I think about diving off the rail. That might stop all this racket. Woman buttresses off hotel roof the newspapers would say.

Here no matter which way you look is paradise.

Among trivial appearances, in the palace of illusion even, survival of the authentic self is nothing trivial; and there is nothing trivial about Susan Tepper’s rendering of it: she is deadly serious.



THE WALL, Issue 4
The Wall

Boston Small Press
by Eric Darton

Nik Perring -Susan Tepper
Nik Perring Interview
Very pleased to welcome the lovely Susan Tepper back to the blog – she's a long time friend and a great writer – and here she is, to talk about her latest book....

otelangy review

"The water feels crisp and delicious and I float with the sun in my eyes. Now when I get home I will be different."

These few lines from Susan Tepper's new book, Monte Carlo Days & Nights is an apt description of what you can expect to feel like as a reader once you have finished being immersed in its warm and sensuous pages. 

I'm happy to report it is another work of art from this very fine writer, Susan Tepper. It's all about desire. "I don't feel nervous during sex with him. Only during normal" or "It would never occur to me that calling a peach a fresh peach could make a man happy. 

It's also about navigating location, feelings, expectations and being present in the unfolding story of amore. "Sex before sleep.. Sex before dinner then sex before sleep." 

Finding the unexpected expected, and the expected, unexpected. "What do you think? He says touching my arm across the table." Or "..we sleep close together towards the middle. He turns the room thermostat down to low and we snuggle under the puffy down comforter."

And getting out with your real self still in tow somehow. It takes a writer of Tepper's assuredness to pull it all off. All of which adds to the depth of the story running softly before your eyes.There's plenty of that here. "I start to love him so hard. So hard it makes my heart bang." 

Along with a willingness to stop and smell the joy, the exhilaration in the moments of consent and release. But the story must go on. "Being here with him is fabulous and terrible at once." I don't want to spoil anything for you and, trust me, Tepper sees it through beautifully to the end. There is humor and pathos aplenty. The only disappointment, like many of Susan's books, is that it is over way too soon. "Which is stronger? I'm wondering, his sex drive or the aftermath--when he's at his most tender." One can't ask for much more than this from an acute writer of the heart these days. Highly recommended.

Darryl Price |