Excerpt from Signal and Noise by John Griesemer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Signal and Noise

A Novel

by John Griesemer

Signal and Noise
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2003, 640 pages
    Apr 2004, 593 pages

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Print Excerpt

Then she made her entrance. The audience leapt to its feet--the President and Mrs. Lincoln included--and greeted Katerina with a rousing ovation. She was to play the piano that evening, selections by Schubert and Brahms and even--almost scandalously--one by Liszt.

Chester looked to the presidential box, where Mr. Lincoln was leaning over the rail, smiling and slamming his big hands together for Katerina, who was bowing, her blond ringlets framing her glowing face, her blue eyes casting a quick glance up to the presidential box, her hand resting on the piano's side, and her fingers tapping perhaps some run of notes she was about to play. And Chester thought how those same fingers had played on him and how long it had been.

VanderWees whispered to Chester, "I told her you'd be here."

They met after the performance. Chester and vanderWees worked their way through the narrow, gaslit backstage passage to Katerina's dressing room in time to see the towering frame and tall stovepipe of the President departing through the stage door to a waiting carriage in the alley.

Katerina demurely received Chester's kiss to her hand.

"I understand the President favors your playing," Chester said.

"He's grieving over the death of his son," she said. "Music helps. You understand."

And Chester was shocked because, for a moment, he did not understand, because he had forgotten about his own lost child, Betty, about Franny, about everything in his life, save that he was touching, at last, the hand of Katerina Lindt.

The Casting

Dawn. She was not pleased that cannon making had to be done at such an unreasonable hour. Even at the beginning of the day, it was a filthy, hot, noisy, utterly exciting place, that forge. She found herself almost stimulated to distraction by it and by the men working around, above, and beside the massive furnace. There were several Negroes among the forge crew; many of the men went shirtless, coal dust and perspiration tattooing their torsos and arms in wild, swirling patterns of filth. Undersecretary vanderWees had advised her to wear her darkest, oldest garments, and she had on a well-worn outfit of gray and black. She had tucked her hair under a broad-brimmed hat that though straw, nevertheless seemed to reflect the forge's heat back down upon her head and shower her in a swoon-inducing miasma. But she kept her composure, determined to admire Chester on the catwalk.

This was the recompense for coming to see the dawn casting: for the first time since resuming her affair with him, Katerina Lindt was seeing the old Chester Ludlow at work.

Katerina's route back to Chester began after they and the cable had parted and she had taken J. Beaumol Spude's offer of assistance to begin her career anew in America. Spude had moved her into a house on Fifth Avenue, not far from the Catholic cathedral under construction. It was a commodious home with a room on the third floor in which Spude installed a piano for Katerina's practice. Within two months he had arranged for her to play a concert at a salon near Cooper Union and at another in Boston. Several months after that, her name had spread--the "Prussian Euterpe" newspapers called her--and she was juggling requests for concerts and recitals around the country.

Throughout, Spude was precisely, and only, what he said he would be: a patron of her art. She had prepared herself for the eventuality that one night, after a concert, he would appear to--as her patron--discuss "artistic matters" and make his intentions clear at last. It never occurred. Spude was genuinely interested in her art. Uncouth though he could be, he knew something instinctively about her music.

She had other admirers, and of those, a railroad president and later a sculptor discreetly shared her bed. These were--even though the former affair lasted for over a year and the latter nearly two--more like serial assignations. They engaged Katerina, even inspired her playing, but her heart was not really in them.

Copyright 2003 by John Griesemer. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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