Friday, May 29, 2015

David Payne’s ‘Early from the Dance’ reminds us of the heartache of young love and betrayal

Photo by Ulf Anderson

Guest Contributor

Early from the Dance is, depending on how you count, David Payne’s second and fifth novel. Originally published in 1989, a revised edition was released in 2003. In his preface to the newer edition, Payne says that he wanted to revisit the story to “remove paste and leave as many pearls as possible.”

Early from the Dance tells the story of thirty-one year old Adam (“A.”) Jenrette, a hip, well-known New York artist who is out of favor with critics. He is fueling his downward spiral with too much cocaine and a cynical attitude.

Now, thirteen years after he fled his small North Carolina hometown, Kildeer, he learns that his Aunt Zoe has died and bequeathed him her
mansion which is badly in need of repair. Pumped up on coke, he decides to return to a past full of unresolved issues involving his best friend, Cary Kinlaw and Jane McCrae, the girl they both loved.

We find out early that Cary committed suicide, an act which is a major source of A.’s present-day emotional problems. Rightly or wrongly, he is filled with unresolved guilt.

Back in Killdeer, A. thinks:

I suddenly realized the amazing fact that I was home. Home. Thirteen years had passed. Everything had changed, but nothing was different – Jane was close but out of reach, Cary should have been here but wasn’t, I still missed him, and I still didn’t know my way. I’d run fast and hard and far, but running hadn’t helped. My life had turned full circle and brought me back to the same place I’d started – home, the good right place where everything went wrong.

When A. runs into beautiful Jane, his teenage love, now newly divorced, the two of them take a journey to the past which begins when they and Cary were eighteen, graduating from high school and making plans for college and the future. Payne deftly switches the narrator role from A. to Cary to Jane and back to A.

In flashbacks, we learn that Cary and A. were inseparable, their friendship based on honesty and honor. Cary’s father does not have a single redeeming quality, at least not one I could find. A. suffers from his own father’s infidelity to his mother who died young.

Cary falls in love with Jane and it becomes a tight friendship of three. The complication arises when A. and Jane leave for summer jobs at “The Lost Colony,” a resort hotel on the Outer Banks while Cary feels obligated to remain in Killdeer to help his father.

A allows his anger toward his father to control his life, making him vulnerable to being seduced by Cleanth Faison, a charismatic charmer who owns the hotel and Morgan Deal, Faison’s former lover who remains under his spell.

Cleanth pulls A. and Jane deeper and deeper in the game he calls “Life Poker.” The game is not sexual but, rather, one of master-pupil. However, Morgan offers A. a sexual education a younger girl could not possibly know and Jane is seduced by Cleanth.

Cocaine is abundant and the teenagers are completely suckered into the hedonistic life-style of these two sophisticated people in their thirties with worldly experience. A. and Jane are out of their league and realize it on a boar hunt when Morgan forces Cleanth to face who he is, allowing A. and Jane to escape.

Cleanth tells A:

Take without regret, A. – that’s all I did and all I think you really have to hold against me, because I tried to show you how. You paid dearly for that lesson – don’t let it be wasted, A., because it’s the taking with regret that spoils. Remember that, especially now.

And A., looking back, reflects:

I had to walk away from all of it. Suddenly I was just an eighteen-year-old kid again, driving a Jeep the salt air was starting to rust out, making five an hour. My life had shrunk to its real size – it didn’t seem like much.

A struggles against his love for Jane, out of loyalty to Cary. Jane does not fight it. She has been honest with Cary all along, although Cary has refused to believe it. A. gives in and their love blossoms. Who will tell Cary when he comes for a visit?

The characters and the relationship between them are believable, full of the pain of young love and betrayal. Who of us has not experienced love while young as we were beginning to blossom into adults? And how many of us have carried remnants of these loves into our adulthood, never quite resolved? David Payne does a superb job of allowing us to enter into the hearts and minds of the three protagonists, and the people who affect their lives.

David Payne is a founding faculty member in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Queens University of Charlotte. His most recent book is Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother’s Story, described as “an exceptional memoir of brotherhood, of sibling rivalries and sibling love, and of the torments a family can hold silent and carry across generations.” Payne will be reading from Barefoot to Avalon, at the following places and dates: Purple Crow Books, Hillsborough, August 4; Regulator Books, Durham August 6; Readings on Roslyn, Bynum Center, Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, August 10; Malaprop’s, Asheville, August 12; Park Road Books, Charlotte, August 13; Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, on August 18; and Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, August 19. All readings will begin at 7 p.m.

Mary Law Meinelt is a published writer, actress, and “Sunday artist.” She has an MFA in Theater from UNC-G. She is presently writing a memoir as well as short fiction pieces.

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