Since you’re unlikely to be doing much this New Year’s Eve, consider curling up by the fire with cigar and a snifter and reading my storybook “The Disengage,” which is set on December 31, 1899, as well as the following morning in the cold dawn of the 20th century. It’s by far the most flamboyant thing I’ve ever written, which means I had a lot of fun with it.— CC
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Gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce that after many years I’ve returned to fiction and have just released a mini-book via Amazon. It’s a short story entitled “The Disengage” — a fencing term that has several meanings in the text — that is set in New York on New Year’s Eve of 1899 and culminates in a duel in Central Park on the first morning of the 20th century.
The story is a pastiche of the worlds of Old New York and fin-de-siecle Decadence. The hero, a penniless French aristocrat, comes to America in search of an heiress and finds more than he bargained for. It’s a black comedy with a sprinkle of kinky romance told in the form of a society gazette gossip column. Themes include Old Money versus the nouveau riche, parasitic celebrity media, the age-old battle of the sexes, finding one’s true purpose in life, and the triumph of love over antisemitism.
Here’s what colleagues are saying without even requiring a bribe:
“The Disengage” is an iridescent tribute to the opulent decadence of the 1890s, veritable catalog of references, an archive of echos, an inventory of allusions to The Lavender Decade. Wilde and Wharton, and perhaps Whistler appear between the lines of this filigreed bonbon along with Aubrey Beardsley and Max Beerbohm, not to mention a touch of Dorothy Parker. But it’s only good fun if you like the period, puns, word play, impeccable literary references, and the juxtaposition of hilarious aesthetic concepts. A parody of a greeting card to an age when society merely demanded a well-tied neckcloth and knowing which fork to use.” — G. Bruce Boyer
“Mix a cask of Amontillado and a brace of absinthe, Christian’s witty satire is an acidic take on Mrs. Astor’s Gilded Age and is a very jolly yarn that purviews an evil eye for our own age.” — Richard Press
“The best way to describe this dreamlike tale spun with the feverish vocabulary of a society gossip columnist is it’s as if the universes of Edith Wharton and J-K Huysmans collided at 1,000 miles per hour and reported to the modern world for emergency treatment.” — Eric Twardzik
“Lovers of the Belle Époque rejoice! Christian Chensvold is well versed in Aestheticism and Decadence and he has melded his erudition with a Saki-like talent for satire in “The Disengage,” a rollicking 21st-century riff on the fin-de-siècle. As Holbrook Jackson observed in his masterpiece The Eighteen-Nineties, “Decadence in any art is always the manure and root of a higher manifestation of that art.” The Disengage is the highest manifestation of the art of decadent writing: it is pure manure.” — Nick Willard, Dandyism.net
“This is so wickedly fabulous and funny. I really think it is brilliant. In addition, it reads like it was effortless, which is perhaps the highest compliment any artist can receive.” — Louise Damberg
And here’s an excerpt:
Neither lagging nor marching, we made our way up Fifth Avenue at a measured pace. As we reached the park, we saw a motley throng of revelers who, like us, were still in evening dress from the night before. Word had spread through the wee small hours, and all 400 souls of New York Society had stayed up all night in anticipation of a genuine sword duel on the snow-encrusted turf of Central Park.
With American ingenuity, the cream of our civilization improvised the scene. Several gentlemen whose names have appeared in this column more than enough used their walking sticks to mark off a piste in the snow. Two antique rapiers taken from the wall of Mr. Vanderhoity’s library were stuck into the ground at each end, which, in my morbidly nervous state, looked like crosses over graves. My throat tightened as I suddenly began to fear for my newfound friend. I accompanied Robert to the far end of the piste, where he took the sword by the pommel, ran his finger down the blade and swished it through the air to check its balance and responsiveness.
“Can you handle a sword?” I asked, trying to conceal my concern.
Robert glared at me superciliously. “You forget, I’m French.”
The idea first came to me about 10 years ago when I was living in Los Angeles, and it’s been fun to finally bring it to fruition and to return to fiction writing. I have two menswear-themed projects in development I’ll keep you posted on. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD