Excerpt from Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Delayed Rays of a Star

by Amanda Lee Koe

Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe X
Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2019, 400 pages

    Jun 2020, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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Print Excerpt


Before she crossed the ballroom to ask the Chinese woman for a dance, Marlene unloosed a curl from the crown of her finger wave, letting it fall across her forehead. It was a habit, now mostly unmindful, that she had acquired for herself as a schoolgirl, every time she wanted the attention of a classmate or the teacher.

Even from where she had been standing, Marlene could smell the fresh magnolia tucked behind the Chinese woman's left ear whenever she moved, which was often. This woman was cutting up the foxtrot, polka, and waltz, even as gouty gents swathed in silky cummerbunds trod on her toes, shod not in shoes but dance slippers, and so providing a winsome view of the high arch of her foot. To be sure, Marlene did not know if it was more that she wanted to dance with the woman, or to be together with her at the center of attention. The most satisfying thing about going with the moment was not having to wait to find out, but a pomaded, middle-aged man had stuck his cane out just as Marlene was about to reach her.

Ahem, he coughed.

Marlene raised an eyebrow. She'd crashed the ball on a producer's last-minute extra invite, and while it would be disappointing to be thrown out so soon, she would not have been sorry for dropping by. But the stranger had not meant to chase her away. She saw him point now, crooked thumb perched over thick fist, to the line of men waiting their turn behind him.

Ah, she said.

He dismissed her with an imperious nod, flashing Marlene a closerange view of the snot- clotted snuff flecking the nose hair extending unevenly from both his nostrils. Unkempt daddies in expensive suits were disgusting. She joined the queue to dance with the Chinese woman. After waiting for a quarter of an hour she grew bored and stepped out of line. Slouching against the wall, she wedged a fresh cigarette into her pipe- shaped cigarette holder, appraising the violinists' playing. The only legitimate job she'd known before her current gig with the cabaret- theater and her bit parts in a string of abysmal movies— which, combined, barely defrayed her rent— was second violinist in a movie palace, scoring silent images as part of a live orchestra. Stepping out of the music pit's anonymity to try and catch the light on the stage or screen sounded dreamy, but Marlene was realistic about her prospects. After watching her latest film cameo, where she entered a room for less than five seconds to set down a teacup for the leading lady, Marlene exclaimed to her friends: I look like a potato with hair!

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that they would not have to coddle her and pretend otherwise, although they remained encouraging: Your big break is bound to come!

Better sooner than later, Marlene said darkly. I'm almost thirty, these pups aren't going to stand at attention forever. With that she weighed her left breast in her right palm, like a savvy hausfrau sizing up sweet oranges at a fruit stall. Anyway, she went on in a loud voice, why must a woman always have beautiful breasts? Accustomed to her skylarking even in a quiet café by day, Marlene's friends did not blink as she joggled her own flesh up and down, attracting affronted looks from the nearest patrons. They can afford to sag a little, can't they?

Not even so long ago, Marlene was committed to the impression that she would be an accomplished concert violinist in the near future. How sobering to have circled up to the realization that while she was adept at the violin, past a certain proficiency, technical competence meant little to nothing. Skill was predictable. The movie palace paid, but it was not the concert hall. What was her magic, and where did it live? She was afraid, too, of giving up the violin to chase down an aspect of herself that might be absent rather than dormant, and then having to disingenuously explain away the embarrassment of failure as a lack of fair opportunity. Midway through the score for a romantic dramedy one evening, Marlene saw with limpid clarity how seamlessly the path of the movie- palace second violinist segued into that of the middle-of-the-road music teacher in an all-girls school, the private violin tutor for provincial children and their cornball parents.

Excerpted from Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe. Copyright © 2019 by Amanda Lee Koe . Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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