Matthew was particularly excited about seeing Manil Suri in person. After all, his picture, a yellowing rectangle snipped from a Texas newspaper, was magnetized to our refrigerator for years, until we finally invested in stainless steel. And there's no doubt, Suri is a striking man: thin with prominent features, salt and pepper hair, a mathematician's exacting eyes, thick lips that make you think bad thoughts when you look at them.
He read from his new novel, The Age of Shiva, the second part of a trilogy (although he preferred to call it a "tryptich," after one audience member asked why the characters from his first novel, The Death of Vishnu, weren't reprised). The audience was sparse, with a few South Asian faces sprinkled in. He seemed composed throughout, with a stately bearing, and his voice maintained a steady tone. He didn't demand attention -- he wasn't showy whatsoever -- but you could imagine him as more of a slow seducer, someone who works his way into your subconscious until you're madly in love.
Okay, maybe I'm projecting now.
Still, he had a mischievious sense of humor and promised a free DVD of an audience member who asked a "secret question." It reminded me of the old Groucho Marx TV show, You Bet Your Life, and when I asked about balancing a mathematical life and a writing life, a duck dropped from the ceiling. It was an easy question to guess, really. This makes two giveaways that I've won at Free Library readings. Time to play the lottery? Perhaps.
In the end, I got to take my picture with him, as is my custom, and he signed his photograph in my book of Marion Ettlinger portraits. I put my arm around him and could feel all the layers of air in the space between his clothes. He's a slender one, that Manil, but when you make contact, you know you want to hold on.