"What would she tell Jake Roseman about his wife?" Inez's lover wonders at one point. "That Inez actually likes to be kissed along the scars on her belly. That she can be persuaded to stand under the shower until all the hot water in the building runs out. That, despite her protests, food is important to her. That she likes to eat with her fingers and have the nubs of her calloused digits sucked one by one. That sex makes her hungry."
That sums up the world of Beautiful Inez: sensual pleasures, nourishment of spirit and mind, all underground and cast against a pall of despair. The book is often as reticent and evasive as is its subject; the novel resisted my initial headlong rush at it almost as though it had to be read on its own time.
After wandering from Schneider's office at the Loft, we end up at a picnic table by the U of M Law School. The demands of a new issue of Speakeasy await, yet it is also nice to have a job one can stroll away from when one likes (and show up to wearing rumpled shorts). Schneider talks about writing fiction in terms of "taking dictation, getting out of your own way," Then, just like that, he proceeds to get out of his own way, wandering into a favorite memory from more than 30 years ago.
"It was a poor man's Pebble Beach," he says of a San Francisco golf course where he used to play. "It was like growing up in the great outdoors--deep fog, twilight. I played by myself. There were gay and straight couples going off to Land's End, so much going on. It felt like the whole place was exploding, and there I was just hitting the golf ball, talking to myself."
Perhaps only a writer would take particular comfort from the notion of being alone among other people. The flip side of this fantasy may be the fear of writing without any readers. While Schneider's work has garnered plenty of good ink, as a novelist he currently resides in the no-man's-land of the critically lauded but commercially somewhat marginal. In the publisher's promotion, a hopeful note suggests that Schneider has "crafted his breakout book."
"Everything in America wants you to get caught up in this numbers game," Schneider says when asked about fame and fortune. "I just think about the old jazz musicians, the way they kept on working no matter what."
With a subversive half-smile he describes his current project, Schneider's first book to take place in the present day and in Minnesota.
"My agent asked me to describe it for a meeting," he says, shifting forward a little, savoring the thought. "I told him to call it a thriller."