The Lily Cafe is thrilled to present author Ivan Brave and his novel They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, released today!
Title: They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach
Author: Ivan Brave
Publication date: June 16, 2020
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age
Amid loss, hope, and despair, They Lived They Were . . . is a story about the power to move on.
It begins with a show at Brighton Beach, New York, where Ilya Gagarin performs a set of original dance music to a crowd of loyal fans. They know him as a rising internet star, only 22 years old, and the resident DJ at one of Brooklyn’s sauciest nightclubs. And yet, at the apex of this performance, a text comes in from his girlfriend who just happened to find his stash of coke and crushed prescription pills. Feeling betrayed for the last time, she leaves him. Deletes him. And goes on to have her own successful career as a blues guitarist.
The rest of the summer becomes a struggle to get her back.
The best way and only way Ilya knows how is to launch the debut EP he has been putting off. Unfortunately for the DJ, the club where he works at teeters on fiscal collapse, plus the security manager is a jerk, blocking his every chance for a release party. Only a has-been, mentor-type DJ, encourages Ilya to finish the project, and share it with the world.
As he works towards his dream, the pressure to succeed, paired with the growing pains of a professional artist, reveals a dark truth: the loss of his mother. Soon, recurring nightmares haunt the DJ, alongside distant childhood memories. Only the power of music, together with an urge to regain his abandoned Russian heritage, both of which are described passionately in his journal, keep him afloat week after week.
Soon, Ilya meets a real life guardian angel. Someone twice his age, and Russian, too: the ethereal yet grounded Julia Levina, a celebrated news anchor with her own troubled past. She inspires him to finish the album and land a date for the launch. By midsummer, her pity turns to empathy, which itself turns into something more. An affair ensues. A smart one, they convince themselves, since it doesn’t implicate her 6 year old child, nor pull Ilya astray from the path he believes will win back his ex-girlfriend’s heart.
Close to the date of the show, however, the DJ suffers a relapse, this time with dire consequences. He isn’t able to finish the album in time for the launch party, which comes and goes, and culminates in even more tragedy. Though things look gloomy, it does serve as the reality check that concludes the misguided affair and ends his substance abuse. But not before one final twist.
“Do you know how Russians say Once Upon a Time?” explains a mysterious meta-character, who has been inserting footnotes the entire story. “. . . Жили были. It translates to They Lived They Were.” Suggesting Ilya might just get his fairy tale ending. Or at least move on.
That’s when his father called Ilya, on his new, new phone.
Being the kind of parent to keep his child on the phone for an hour, they chatted for a long time—Ilya making up a story about how he got this new phone—when out of the blue the son asked a totally unrelated question:
“Dad, could you tell me the story of Orpheus, again?”
“That old story?” The father huffed. “You aren’t on drugs, are you?”
“No.” Ilya could never get used to that particularly funny feeling of relief, when what he was supposed to say matched with the truth.
“You really want to hear it?”
The father, soon to ask why, told the story.
“Orpheus was greatest poet the ancient world had ever known,” said the father.
“The greatest poet,” said Ilya, correcting his father’s slip.
He continued, unfazed: “And not half-bad at the lyre either. His music could elicit any emotion, from fist-shaking wrath to toe-curling ecstasy. Notwithstanding, he was charmer, with—”
“A charmer, with throngs of women falling at his feet.”
“But,” said Ilya, “he only ever loved one, right? Eurydice.”
“How beautiful was she?”
“Prettier than birthday cake. And she was as crazy as him, crazy in love that is. They decided to marry.
“On the day of their wedding, however, a terrible snake squirmed near Eurydice and injected her with a poison so horrible it ended in her agonizing death.”
“And then?” asked the young son.
“And then, what do you think, madness, followed by sadness. He stopped making music, and, soon, so did the birds and the bees. In fact, eventually the whole earth wept for the poor boy. Luckily, Orpheus was son of Apollo the god of Music, and Muse the goddess of Lyric, a powerful combination. While his aunt was Aphrodite, the goddess of Love. Taking pity on her nephew she sought out Hades and Persephone. She almost arranged an audience for Orpheus, for him to bring his dead wife back to life. But Hades, being the nasty guy that he was, told her no. Despite that, however, Aphrodite told Orpheus to go down anyway.
“So Orpheus ventured to the Underworld, to beg the king and queen of souls to grant his wish of reviving Eurydice.” Here, a breath, then the father continued.
“It is nearly impossible to reach the Underworld, a passage fraught with perils, ghastly beasts and ghouls. You remember the three headed dog that guards the gates of hell? Cerberus, ready to rip a wonderer to shreds?
“Well, a dog is still a dog. As the poet approaches, he pulls out his lyre. And puts Cerberus to sleep with a beautiful combination of lullaby and ear-scratching.
“Next, he must cross the river Styx, the river of death, which divides this world from the next. The only way across is to pay for a ferry ride. Again, Orpheus’s cunning and talent helps him across. After greeting the ferryman Charon, the poet Orpheus charms him with a song in honor of the working man’s efforts, some Bruce Springsteen tune, surely.
“Filled with gratitude by Orpheus, for recognizing his labor, Charon grants the poet a ride, telling him that not far from shore lies the castle of the king and queen.”
“Hades and Persephone.”
“Yes, the rulers of the Underworld. The two aren’t exactly famous for their hospitality, but they greet the poet with enthusiasm. They host a party. And no one asks anyone for any favors just yet.
“At the height of the festivities, the young poet seeks audience with royal overlords. Orpheus pleas for his wife back, saying she was taken from him too soon, on the day of their wedding. ‘What are a few more years of life with me,’ Orpheus asks Hades, ‘compared to the eternity she will spend here when she must return for good?’
“Hades, sobering up, cuts Orpheus off, saying there is no way in hell he’s going to return a human soul to earth. Persephone doesn’t appreciate her husband’s aggression, however, and implores Hades to listen to the boy.”
Ilya tensed up. He had forgotten this part. But the father continued.
“Orpheus, of course, having anticipated this reaction, recites a ballad especially prepared for the king and queen: essentially, the most beautiful song ever composed.
“On the one hand, his melody reminds Persephone of her earthly days, as sweet as the walks with her mother Demeter. On the other hand, his lyrics sing of Hades’s heroism in the war against the Titans, singing of the clashing of swords and breaking of horses. This combination fades into an outro, eloquently, about the power of love, even at the edge of existence, between the royal couple.
“After a performance like that, taking the breath away of everyone in the Underworld, Persephone speaks: ‘Bravo, Orpheus, if it were up to me you would have your wife back, for a second chance at life. But let us see what his highness, my husband, believes to be correct.’
“Hades, a little annoyed by his wife who is always right, yet genuinely moved by the poet, agrees to let Eurydice accompany Orpheus out of the Underworld, but on one condition. ‘As she follows you out of the underworld, you must not look back at her, not even speak to her . . .”
As Ilya started heading home, the sky darkened. The father, completely enraptured by the story, continued.
“So the lovers leave, together, following the path back: over the river, past the gate, and through the perils and obstacles, back to solid ground above.
“All the while, Orpheus remembers not to look over his shoulder, as he was told. But Eurydice doesn’t know the rules.
“ ‘Orpheus,’ she calls out, ‘my love, Orpheus, why do you ignore me? Why don’t you look back at me? Don’t you love me anymore? Won’t you say something to me? Talk to me, my love, speak your mind, look me in the eyes again like you used to. What nightmare!’
“The world’s greatest poet does his best. He holds strong. He remembers the words stating he must refrain from even looking over his shoulder. As the light at the end of the tunnel shines, however, what happens? Eurydice calls out one last time.
“ ‘Orpheus, why, why do you ignore me? Cruel, cruel Orpheus. Don’t you love me?’
“Passionate Orpheus turns around, screaming that he does love her, that he does. But no sooner came the reply does she tumble back down, down, forever down.”
“Да. Orpheus went from being the world’s greatest love poet, to the world’s greatest poet of sorrow. Because of his loss, he became even richer in words, even sweeter in melody. It was said that after losing Eurydice, Orpheus could now see into the hearts of gods and men with his music. But what good was that to him? He had lost the only woman he had ever or would ever love.
“He spent his remaining days, each as lonesome as the next, just playing his instrument in the woods, to whoever would listen, even to the birds and the rivers. Then, one day, a group of nymphs as horny as high schoolers huddled around the poet.
“They asked him to play them a happy song. He did. They asked him to play a sad song. He did. They asked him to play whatever he felt like playing, and he sang of eternal love lost. Half of the nymphs wept like they had never wept before. The other half fell madly in love with the poet.
“They told Orpheus to let go of this silly mortal girl, weaker than a snake, too delicate to hike back to reality, forget her. Instead, they suggested, marry one of us.
“But Orpheus didn’t even have the courage to tell them No. He just walked way.
“The nymphs, so offended by his rejection, in great number held down the poet, and raped him.”
“They raped him brutally and without mercy. Then they tore him from limb to limb, as easily as you would pick apart a boiled chicken, they stripped the very meat from his bones, and left his body mangled to shreds in that forest, those wretched nymphs!”
“Indeed. And not just that, my son, because of course this story has a happy ending. You know, the Greek gods had a funny way of ending things. You remember what happened next? Well, what happens to dead souls?”
“They go to the Underworld.”
“That’s right. Orpheus finally got to Eurydice. And they lived happily ever after, filling the Underworld with love and music. Now they can take walks, sometimes Eurydice in front, sometimes side by side. Other times Orpheus in the lead—only he can turn around and say I love you to his wife, as much as he wants.”
Ilya sat on the stairs of a Brooklyn train station platform bound for Manhattan. He didn’t want to end the phone call by going down and taking the train back home just yet. They chatted a bit more, about his roommate, about the apartment, about if Ilya had enough money. Then:
“Why did you ask about Orpheus?” asked the father, empathizing with this story of loss.
“I think Stacy might have been my Eurydice,” said Ilya, feeling the same about the story as h
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is father. “Although, I might have been her snake.”
After humming in agreement, the father asked, “Did Stacy inspire you?”
“In a way, yeah. I’m writing again.” He didn’t mention the show, wanting to secure the date first, before inviting anyone, especially the guest of honor.
The father paused. “And are you seeing anybody?” he asked.
Ilya didn’t want to say that either, not exactly, so he said, “No. Yes. Maybe. She’s . . .”
“She’s a nymph?” asked dad.
“I hope so.”
Nikolai almost said, Just like your mother, but restrained himself.
Excerpted from They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach by Ivan Brave, Copyright © 2020 by Ivan Brace.
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The author of this book, Ivan Brave, retains all rights to the excerpt published above, which may not be copied, reproduced, modified, sold, or distributed without the author’s express permission. To contact Ivan Brave to request permission to utilize the above excerpts, please send your inquiry to Kat via the Contact page.
Thank you so much, Ivan! And thank you so much for tailoring your excerpt to The Lily Cafe! I adore Greek mythology, so this excerpt was incredibly perfect and I am so honored to be able to share not just the excerpt, but your novel with as many people as I can.