A serial novel by Roy Lincoln Karp
Thursday, March 5, 2026, 10:30 pm
The Green Bus dropped us off outside the Berkshire Food Coop this afternoon and I parted ways with Gary, though not before exchanging cell phone numbers. While chatting on the bus about the Gathering of Griots, I had asked if I could help out in any way as a volunteer. He said he would check with the organizers and get back to me. I hope it wasn’t a brush off. There it is again: that creeping fear of rejection by those I feel drawn to, with whom I have perhaps too hastily shared some essential piece of myself.
I walked somewhat aimlessly around downtown Great Barrington, looking like a wandering Jew with my overstuffed backpack. There was a quiet calm on the streets, and I felt like a ghost observing my surroundings but not fully present. Gone were all the brash New Yorkers, swaggering about like they owned the place to the annual annoyance of the locals. As a New York transplant to Boston, I have observed this relationship over the years with some amusement. A vendor at the local farmer’s market once complained to me in a conspiratorial whisper that there were “too many damn New Yorkers in town.” I had told him we were from Boston, so he felt comfortable confiding in me.
Of course, I knew what he meant. Overhearing heavy New York accents again, noticing the display of expensive but casual au courant fashion choices, reminded me of why I had left in the first place, of all that I had spurned. Yet I could see it from both sides now. Encounters with New Yorkers on vacation always feels like a coming home sorts, like walking into a synagogue after many years of absence. Everything is at once familiar, yet it’s not really my community any more. I put on a borrowed yarmulke, but I find myself constantly adjusting it, feeling like it’s perpetually falling off.
My pack was not getting any lighter, so I decided to make my way to George and Linda’s house. One of the drawbacks of a dumb phone is that it doesn’t have GPS, so I pulled out the directions George had written out for me. He said it was about a 20-minute walk from town, which was about right although it was largely uphill. By the time I got to the house, I was breathing heavily and a thin layer of sweat had formed on my arms and legs.
I wasn’t sure if I had found the right place because there was a car in the driveway and I heard a thumping bassline from inside. George said the place was empty so I approached the house warily. Just as I got to the front door, it flew open and a lanky young man blurted, “Who the hell are you!?” I hastily explained I was a friend of the Vanderheusens and that they had invited me to stay at their house. “Sounds like something my parents would do,” he said before waving me in begrudgingly.
The house is a sort of luxury log cabin made of high finish knotty pine. From the front entrance, you immediately enter a two-story great room with a picture window and mountain view. It was not at all what I expected. Their house in Jamaica Plain is a ramshackle Victorian that Linda inherited from her family, what one might call shabby genteel. Every inch of wall space is covered with framed artwork, an eclectic collection amassed from several generations of world travel. The living room has built-in shelves packed with dusty, hardbacks from a previous generation.
They seem to have taken on a wholly different identity in the Berkshires. Their summer house was spare. No artwork or books adorned the walls. Perhaps this was born of the necessity of renting the house out to strangers, as they had over the years. But I couldn’t stop thinking about this alternative George and Linda and the ways in which we are shaped by our surroundings. The house revealed less of their personality, yet was somehow more ostentatious, a display of wealth that would have embarrassed them in JP.
My expectations were upended in more ways than one. Instead of solitude in a dank old summer house, I felt like an unwelcome visitor in a faux rustic playpen. I was also a third wheel, as Dexter was there with his girlfriend Leanne. I knew a little bit about Dexter from his parents and sensed he had led a charmed life. Reports from his parents were basically of the proud, glowing variety, a habit born of ceaseless competition with friends over whose adult kids were the most successful.
The facts as presented by his parents were as follows: Dexter had dropped out of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs to start his own technology security company, which had secured the business of several important overseas clients. Dexter met Leanne at Columbia, where she was a rising star at the graduate School of Journalism. Leanne was raised by a working class, single mom in a small town in western Pennsylvania, from which she had escaped through a combination of keen intelligence and grit.
As for the relationship, the two parents did not see eye to eye. George had no issue with Leanne. He thought she had “a real head on her shoulders,” was “going places,” and was generally a positive influence on Dexter. Linda was skeptical, seeing her as a hopeless striver who would drop Dexter as soon as he was no longer useful to her.
Knowing so much about them, while they hardly knew me from Adam, made me feel a bit like a voyeur. When I arrived, Leanne was preparing a gourmet meal from a recipe on her iPad while enjoying a glass of Bordeaux. She had the look of someone who had arrived. But as the night progressed, I watched her slowly numb herself with wine and I tried to figure out why.
Leanne had completely reinvented herself, but had lost something essential along the way. She had a great deal of pride, feeling superior to all those she had left behind in the small town where she had grown up, yet at the same time superior to all the entitled rich kids she had outshined when she got to the big city. Now she was living behind thick castle walls of her own creation and needed something to dull the pain of her loneliness.