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Excerpt from The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lioness

A Novel

by Chris Bohjalian

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian X
The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
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  • First Published:
    May 2022, 336 pages

    May 2023, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Print Excerpt

Chapter One

Katie Barstow

Hollywood royalty gathered Saturday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Katie Barstow wed Rodeo Drive gallerist David Hill. The two of them left afterward for Paris and then the wilds of Africa on a "safari." Rumor has it that the actress is bringing along an entourage into the jungle that will include her brother and sister-in-law, Billy and Margie Stepanov; her agent, Peter Merrick; her publicist, Reggie Stout; actress Carmen Tedesco and her husband, Felix Demeter; and Katie's friend and co-star in the still controversial Tender Madness, Terrance Dutton. The little group has nicknamed themselves the Lions of Hollywood--though anyone who knows Katie Barstow or has seen her on the screen understands that she is the lioness in charge of this pride.

--The Hollywood Reporter, November 9, 1964

She was watching the giraffes at the watering hole after breakfast, no longer as awed by their presence as she'd been even four days ago, when she'd first seen a great herd of them eating leaves from a copse of tall umbrella acacia, their heads occasionally bobbing up to stare back, unfazed and not especially alarmed by the humans. Their eyes were sweet. Their horns were the antennae on a child's extraterrestrial Halloween mask. The inscrutable creatures were wary of these humans, but they felt no need to flee.

They'd just finished breakfast and were still at their camp. Her husband, David, was on her left, and her brother, Billy, was on her right. Both had their cameras out. Terrance was sitting nearby with his notebook on his knees, sketching the creatures. Katie had known that Terrance was as talented a visual artist as he was an actor--her husband loved his paintings--but she was still stunned by how quickly and how remarkably he was drawing the animals they saw. The eyes of his elephant had broken her heart. Earlier that autumn, when they were still in L.A., David had said it was only a matter of time before he could risk giving the man a show. ("He's a movie star," she told David when she heard the hesitation in his voice. "He's a Black movie star," David had reminded her, and while he was only acknowledging the backlash he might face from some quarters, she had still felt the need to remind him it was 1964, not 1864. His gallery's fiscal foundation couldn't possibly be so weak that it couldn't withstand blowback from racist critics and so-called connoisseurs.)

The group, all nine of them and their guides, were about to climb into the Land Rovers and start the drive to the next camp, a journey through the savanna that would take three hours if they didn't stop, but would, in fact, take seven or eight because they expected to pause often for the Serengeti's great menagerie of animals. You just never knew what you would see and where you might detour. Yesterday, they had been particularly lucky. They had witnessed the great wildebeest crossing at the Mara River: thousands of wildebeest and zebras storming down the sandy banks into the water and attempting to reach the grass on the other side.

There were five giraffes this morning, three with their legs splayed awkwardly as they stretched their long necks down to the water to drink. She felt a small pang of guilt that she was taking for granted her witness to their presence, animals over fifteen feet tall--their legs alone were taller than she was--with their cream-colored coats and those iconic tawny spots. She wondered at the way her mind was wandering instead to the differences between coincidence and synchronicity. Her brother, Billy, a psychologist, had been expounding on the two words over breakfast in the meal tent.

A coincidence, he had said, was the fact that there were nine Americans on this photo safari, and last month two had been caught in the same end-of-the-world traffic jam that brought freeway traffic to a standstill before the Beatles' appearance at the Hollywood Bowl: Katie's husband and Katie's agent. Though David Hill was nearly thirty years younger than Peter Merrick, the idea that they had turned off their engines and stood smoking Lucky Strikes on the highway beside their cars at almost exactly the same moment near almost exactly the same exit had still been fascinating enough that it had broken the ice their first night in the Serengeti, and led David and Peter to bond in ways that transcended the generation and a half that separated them. (It also gave them something less awkward to discuss than the reality that Katie Barstow, their more obvious commonality, made dramatically more money than either of them, or that they were two big, strapping men who depended upon the earning power of a one-hundred-pound woman with a childhood more freakish than fairy tale who was barely five feet tall.)

Excerpted from The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian. Copyright © 2022 by Chris Bohjalian. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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