The second novel in Basil Rosa’s Lotion State Trilogy, Groovemasters Night At The Met Café pays homage to Balzac’s Lost Illusions, chronicling one autumn of a May-September romance in Providence between Shura Levy and Ship C. Cusack. At age 20, Ship prefers his middle name, Chandler, and narrates this tale of joie de vivre. Self-absorbed, brimming with enthusiasm and unearned confidence, insecure and impatient, yet so guileless and eager to succeed that we can’t help liking him, Chandler is burning to know what love is. He must know. It’s all so urgent.
At the novel’s beginning he’s employed at Channel 36, Providence’s only public television station. He’s also acting in a play directed by Shura in Newport. When the play closes, Chandler suffers a bout of depression. He also loses his job due to funding cuts. He finds happiness in dating Shura, who, cigarette and glass of scotch in hand, agrees to educate him in more ways than one, but he must promise her, “We’ll always be friends no matter what I choose to do.”
Inspired by her guidance, Chandler finds work as a line cook, lands a small part in an original play and makes visits by bus to Boston where he shaves his grandfather. He enjoys lots of sex and long philosophical conversations with Shura, a RISD grad from Long Island who gave up painting for the theatre and who describes her lifestyle as one of “genteel poverty.” She reads Zola and Shakespeare and waits tables, travelling periodically by train to audition for plays in Manhattan.
Shura finds Chandler charming and amusing, though insists he not get too attached. She treats him to exorbitant meals and they go out often to blues bars, and they sleep late after enjoying wild sex all night. Shura becomes something of a dominatrix with Chandler, as well as a star on the Providence theatre scene. As much as she likes the attention from locals, she despairs over being pigeonholed as an actress who must play mothers and aunts. Time is running out. She must move to Manhattan. Her goal all along has been to really make it in the theatre.
Life begins changing rapidly for Chandler. His roommate Gail moves to Los Angeles. His other roommate, Kevin, has been diagnosed with a strange new disease called AIDS. His Iranian friend KJ, who still hasn’t married Bree in order to get a green card, has been forced to live in a squalid room with Derek and Doughie, a pair of male strip-tease dancers. Chandler’s new roommate, Marshall, is turning out to be a cocksure bully who insists Chandler is “a homo” who likes “Frenchy” things. While Shura’s away in Manhattan, Chandler realizes how much she’s at the center of his life. He fears the longer she’s away, the more she’ll lose interest in him.
Shura returns and meets with Chandler to explain why she was away so long. She had an abortion. Chandler is puzzled and feels betrayed. Maybe he’d want to have a child with her. He does love her, after all. Why hadn’t she discussed this with him? Had there been another man? He doesn’t like admitting that this is possible. Shura elaborates gently to Chandler how difficult a decision this was for her, though maintaining “Having a child is not what I want right now.”
Though they resume their romance in Providence, it’s more subdued. They watch Jean Luc Godard movies at the Avon, and have what feels like one final fling seeing The Groovemasters on a Thursday night at the Met Café. It’s after this night that Shura reveals that she’s found an affordable apartment in Greenwich Village. She’s going to move, at last. She’d like him to visit, though not until she’s settled.
It’s already November and Thanksgiving. Chandler goes home to his parents, feeling lost and knowing when he returns to Providence that Shura won’t be there. A chapter has ended. His life will be different, one he’s not even certain he wants to go back to.
Perhaps Shura had been right when she’d told him, “Love is in the grasping.”