Jumpers Cover Image
Buy now


Duncan R. Smith

October 2020


Jumpers opens with the narrator, 'Guv' Wilson, landing in Los Angeles.  Yet to deal with events that have splintered his family and left him too numb for real romance, Guv has been in a drift that has taken him from New Hampshire (Dartmouth) to a boring job in Utah and finally to his employer's convention in Los Angeles.  Dazzled by L.A. and its possibilities, Guv decides to "jump" ship, to reverse course.

He lands a menial job at a "business management" firm which handles all the finances of its entertainment clientele and quickly meets a famous actress, who sees in Guv a really smart kid who might ferret out information at the office, as she prepares to launch an attack against another firm client, her husband.  One of the significant things the couple will fight over is the Beverly Hills mansion which they shared and which Lilah claims and inhabits. Guv becomes her committed ally, and she champions Guv.  However, inflamed by peripheral characters, the fight that's begun spins totally out of control, threatening all.


The novel opens:

"I'm about two beers shy of a tattoo.  Two beers is all it would take, a pint and a half of conviction, and then I could drag my sorry ass down to the local tattooist and have a biceps stenciled with the barbed wire of my discontent."

[When Lilah Foster, the famous actress, first meets Guv, she learns that his given name is "Gouverneur," an old family name that spurs invariable jokes.  She tells him it's a wonderful name and not to be embarrassed by it.  Eight weeks later, separated from her husband, Lilah has by now befriended Guv and feels more comfortable if he sometimes spends the night in her mansion so that she isn't alone.  Cary is Guv's much beloved sister and only sibling.  A.D. is hoping that his new relationship with Lilah benefits his chances of directing films.  He has a crush on Lilah which hasn't as yet been reciprocated.  Late one night when Guv gets back to her house, Lilah asks him:]

"A.D.  Do you think he's good looking?"

"I guess..  Sure.  Absolutely."  Needless to say, I don't have a clue, and every time women ask something like that, about a person's appearance, it's always a loaded question, since the only reason women ask is so that they can correct your answer.  I'd probably guess that A.D. was above-average in terms of his looks.

"He has a strong chin," Lilah points out.  "It's noble, very hard."

Later, having retreated to the den in order to stay out of Lilah's way, I am looking through a fabulous collection of CDs.  The only common bond, or maybe the only really common ground, among my sister, our mother, and our grandmother is their love of classical music....  Beethoven's Third Symphony is playing when Lilah appears.  It is well past midnight.  "Is it okay if I join you?" she wonders.

"Yeah, God."  I stand up.

"I know, I know.  It's my house.  Sit down," she commands, as she sits on a couch opposite mine.  Closing her eyes, Lilah sways her head in time to the entire fourth movement.

"Do you like classical music?" Lilah asks when the symphony concludes. 

"I don't know much of it."

"Oh, is this another one of your self-improvement projects?"  Lilah saw the pile of books that I was carrying when I arrived.  There is no easy answer to her question, not without digging through my pile of insecurities or mentioning that my absolute preference would be to start occupying more of the post-twilight hours with an active love life, and I don't want to burden Lilah with these failings.  So I don't answer.

"Did you grow up with money?"

Lilah's questions so startles me that I swivel my feet off the ottoman on which they have just been placed.

"For heaven's sake, calm down.  First of all, with a name like yours, somebody ought to be compensating you with one of those .. you know, trusts..?  I only wondered because you seem comfortable in a house like this."

I shrug.  My grandmother's house was this large, but she sold it six years ago in a city where real estate is worth one-tenth or less of what it is here.  Lilah badgers me for an answer and will not accept equivocation.  She claims that if you grew up poor, you knew it, everyone else knew, and there was no escaping it.  Likewise, if you grew up with money, you damn well knew it, you knew that you were exempt from running some of life's gauntlets.  Lilah seems to acknowledge that there may be middle ground, territory between the haves and have-nots, yet all she's interested in are the extremes.

The truth is, my sister and I grew up in the shadow of money, which isn't the same thing as growing up with money.  There were albums of decaying homes fitted with ballrooms, stable-hands holding a string of polo ponies, and pavilions on the shores of summer homes.  Whatever the past, my parents' house is in a middle-class neighborhood, nothing fancy, and it will never be a residence for the monied.  There was once a family fortune, but all Cary and I were aware of was the chalk outline on the sidewalk, the indication of major loss, the corpus having long since been carried away.

But Lilah's fascinated by my stories of ancestral excess, whereas I've never taken much interest in them.  If there was a lot of money, it so predates me that it should, in theory at least, have no impact on me, and that's the way I feel about it.  Whether or not the same can be said of Cary is another matter.

[A bodyguard, a brute named Munson, is stationed by the antagonist - the husband Lilah is divorcing - near the gate to the mansion, more by way of hassling Lilah and her visitors than "protecting" the mansion.  Munson and A.D. take an immediate dislike to one another.  Provoked, A.D. tells Guv:]

"Ain't nobody gonna whip my ass.  No-fucking-way, no-fucking-body.  You' ever been beat up?" A.D. asks in a voice that makes it clear that he has.  "Your ribs break, and your kidneys bleed, and your pee runs red for days."

[About a month later, and weeks after A.D. has been injured in an altercation with the brute, A.D. tries to turn the tables on Munson, who's been watching him, by trailing Munson one night when he goes off duty.  At Lilah's urging, Guv accompanies A.D.]

Working his way crosstown, Munson steers an erratic pursuit to the Marina, twisting through a maze of side streets. his old Cadillac side-stepping its way to the southwest, first south, then west, then south on a block-long, narrow lane.  Ignoring faster routes and less deserted boulevards, Munson leads us on an eight-mile trek.  Clearly, he is aware of the tail, he may even want us to stalk him, but A.D. refuses to abandon the pursuit.

Once in the Marina, when Munson suddenly yanks his car into a parking spot on Washington St. and saunters across the broad avenue, A.D. forces his car to the curb, a block short of the bar which Munson enters.  A.D. parks in a tight space behind a florist's van, which affords some cover but not much of a view.  A.D. wants to leave the car, to tighten the surveillance, but he dismisses the idea when I insist that I, too, would have to go along.  "Shit," he mutters, frustrated with me.  "The point isn't necessarily to do something here, it's to find his home.  His doorstep.  I want him to see me watching him.  Nothing violent, just a headgame."

A.D. is leaking adrenaline.  Despite the evening's chill, there are dark and expanding circles of perspiration on his sweatshirt; his mind is a catalogue of ideas, which he is thumbing through randomly.  He starts to discuss "our watching", switches for a moment to suggest inserting a scene such as the one we are now playing into a fiction that he is helping Lilah to craft, then switches back to the here-and-now and the what-ifs and what-mights of our current circumstances.  Would it be better to allow Munson to spot us lurking in the rear-view mirror?  Or is it more unsettling if Munson finds A.D. one morning striking his own cigar-store Indian pose on Munson's doorstep?

I hate the way A.D. has let his mind drift out of his body, the way he can become his own spectator.  This whole pursuit is an experiment, uncharted, and he spills out possibilities like a dramatist: Lilah's character in the prospective film could pursue her antagonist; she could metamorphose from victim to heroine by pushing things to some simple confrontation.  "She has to do something," A.D. says of the woman.  "Character is action, right?"  A.D. laughs and winks at me, as if to acknowledge and to mock that frequently quoted gem of screenwriting wisdom.  "Character is action," he repeats, his smile forced.

Jesus H. Christ!  We are sitting in a car, all but trapped in a car, about a hundred yards from a bar where Munson is hanging out, and A.D. is imagining half a dozen actions and consequences.  It is frightening to me, his disengagement.  Whenever Cary did anything like this, whenever she let her mind drift outside itself and watch a scene unfolding like some playwright at an early rehearsal of her work-in-progress, she did it to escape the miserable role she thought she'd been assigned.  Cary could practice these mind tricks, these flights of fancy in which the first person becomes the third person, but her lot never improved for all her furious imaginings.

After an hour of sitting there with A.D., the car crowded by his mental gymnastics, I start to feel claustrophobic and slip out of the car and start down the sidewalk, weaving through the shadows..