The following is excerpted from Sara Stridsberg's novel, Valerie, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner. Sara Stridsberg is an internationally acclaimed writer and playwright. She has published seven books of both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been translated into more than twenty languages. A former member of the Swedish Academy, she is a leading feminist and artist in her native Sweden and around the world. Valerie is her North American debut.
A Hotel Somewhere in the Tenderloin, Winter 1987, One Year Before Your Death
On February 20, 1987, Andy admits himself to New York Hospital under the pseudonym Bob Roberts. He would like to register as Barbara, but is not allowed. Dr. Denton Cox operates on his gallbladder for hours. Andy keeps his wig on during the operation. The silver glints against his snow-white skin. And under the hospital gown beats his nervous, irregular heart.
Andy is dreaming about you. The hospital smell has triggered dreams of you again. He dreams you are chasing him through the snow in Central Park. He dreams about his own funeral, about having to lie beside Mama Warhola in the deluxe grave in Pittsburgh. Between the heartbeats he dreams that guests drop muscle magazines and perfume bottles (preferably Estée Lauder) into his grave.
Nurse Min Cho keeps an eye on him and on her knitting. Late during the night following the operation he suffers a cardiac arrest. Cause: a surge of adrenaline generated by fear. (Is he thinking of the calamitous year of 1968? Is he thinking of you? A memory of the hospital, the operating smell?) Afterward Min Cho fills two garbage bags with material soiled by sickness and death and she is later sued by the family for a failure in care. The hospital pays out three million dollars to the Warhol family in compensation for his death.
The Village Voice calls you in the Tenderloin to inform you of the news. You have one year left to live and you answer in your lacy undies with your persistent cough, and as you reach for the telephone a mug of coffee falls to the floor. Being born is like being kidnapped and then being sold as a slave.
ULTRA VIOLET: Valerie Solanas?
ULTRA VIOLET: How’s life?
VALERIE (laughs): Fine, thanks . . . sunny . . . Who’s speaking?
ULTRA VIOLET: Ultra Violet at The Village Voice.
ULTRA VIOLET: Tell me about your life.
VALERIE: I always walk on the sunny side. I always have lucky threads of gold and silver in my coats.
ULTRA VIOLET: And how are things with SCUM? Anything going on?
VALERIE: Not much.
Not much. You are shooting heroin again, have covered every public wall with notes and jottings. SCUM never existed, never will. It was just you. It was not even you. It was a hypothesis, a dream, a fantasy; what does it matter now?
ULTRA VIOLET: How many members do you have today?
VALERIE: Don’t know.
ULTRA VIOLET: Andy Warhol is dead.
Faint sunshine through the window, smeary windows, the smell of smoke and sun. The smell of the ocean, maybe, and another time. Cigarette smoke in your hand.
VALERIE: Oh . . .
ULTRA VIOLET: What do you have to say about Andy Warhol?
VALERIE: Not much . . . Pop artist . . . The Factory . . . Prints . . . I don’t want to talk about him . . . I’ve nothing to say . . .
ULTRA VIOLET: He died during a routine operation. The Warhol family intends to sue the hospital.
VALERIE: I have nothing to add.
ULTRA VIOLET: What do you think of our president?
VALERIE: Nothing. He doesn’t make much of an impression here. A ridiculous old B-list actor. A john like all the other presidents.
ULTRA VIOLET: What about you?
VALERIE: A lot of surfing and a lot of sun. Disco balls versus death. The ocean is cold, still cold, shark attacks are still being hushed up by the government. It’s all right, but it’s all wrong.
ULTRA VIOLET: And what’s your opinion of the current women’s movement? Where does the American woman stand today?
VALERIE: In the shit, I suspect.
ULTRA VIOLET: And where do you stand?
VALERIE: In the shit.
(Shouts from the street, traffic, hum of porn music.)
ULTRA VIOLET: What else is happening?
VALERIE: Not much. Work. Money. Sun. I’ve got a visitor coming now . . . More work. I have to hang up.
ULTRA VIOLET (quick tongued): Are you a prostitute? Do you still hate men? Do you ever think about Andy Warhol?
The windowpane is streaked with dirt and exhaust fumes, the room is boiling and freezing, ice-blue and alien. Do you still hate men? Are you still a prostitute? Do you ever think about Andy Warhol? Is the president still an ass? Does the president still have hair in his ass?
VALERIE: I need to get off the phone now. I have nothing to say . . . I’m an author. You can write that. I’m writing a book . . . Put that . . . Sex is a hang-up . . . You can write that too.
You throw the receiver down and drag on your raincoat, no, your silver coat (the raincoat was so long ago, it was New York, the Factory, Manhattan, black raincoat, dark glasses, waiting for rain that never came) and put your scarf into your bag with an old plastic-wrapped sandwich, your hat, and your sunglasses. The sun rides the waves in the sky out there and you paint your lips deep pink and look at yourself in the cracked mirror. The prettiest nine-year-old in America. The fastest surfer in Alligator Reef. Star student from the University of Maryland. The woman who failed to kill Andy Warhol. In the distance the sound of sirens and unknown women screaming, blue lights flashing and camera bulbs, a still hand on your arm. The small, gloved hand of Officer William Schmalix, and a movement, light as a bird, shielding your head as you climb into the police car.
Excerpted from Valerie: or, The Faculty of Dreams: A novel. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux August 6th 2019. Copyright © 2006 by Sara Stridsberg. Translation copyright © 2019 by Deborah Bragan-Turner. All rights reserved.