The real matter was: Who was this man whose life I’d saved?
When the narrator in Mouth to Mouth hears the name Jeff Cook announced over the PA at the airport, he immediately thinks of an acquaintance, a fellow student from his UCLA days twenty years earlier. The man who strides to the counter is handsome, dressed expensively and nothing like the ‘thrift store Adnois’ he once crossed paths with. But the Adonis, Jeff, recognizes him immediately and as the two settle into conversation in the lounge while waiting on their delayed flight the story of is success unfolds. A story about how rescuing a drowning man changed his fate and helped him achieve his rich existence.
Rescuing renowned art dealer, Francis Arsenault, from the ocean is a moment Jeff had never imagined he’d face. A ‘crisis’ he alone had to decide to act upon. The emotional upheaval caused within Jeff has a staggering effect on him, a life altering moment that urges him to track Francis down. It leads him to Arsenault’s art gallery and he decides to throw himself into his path, shadowing him for what reason he isn’t entirely sure. As he follows him, the middle aged man doesn’t even recognize Jeff as his savior. The real matter suddenly becomes “who was this man whose life I’d saved”, like an obsession. The things he discovers isn’t enough, too much surface information, he longs to plunge his depths to really know who Francis is at his core. He needs more than his biography, he wants access to the man and opportunity falls right into his hands. Lines are crossed, this is how he remakes himself and paints his future. Moments are contrived but just as often chance guides Jeff along.
The men’s lives are tangled from the moment Jeff pulls Francis from the immense ocean. Francis teaches Jeff about the world of art and sees a lot of himself in him. Francis tells him he is lucky to have someone like him to show him the way and by being welcomed into his life and family, he learns exactly the sort of man he saved. He is on the fast track to becoming Francis’s confidant but Francis is no closer to discovering Jeff’s secret, that he saved his life but Francis has secrets of his own that could destroy his family and test Jeff’s loyalty. Things get even more complicated and Jeff cannot remain neutral, one must always chose sides particularly when they’ve insinuated themselves in another’s life, particularly one that had it’s own dramas already spinning.
Is it fate or self-serving acts that have made Jeff who he is today? For me, the obsession was more about trying to figure out who Jeff is, not Francis. What is a life? For some it seems more like parts to be played. The rise and fall of a hero, that’s all I keep thinking. Imagine how many success stories share a common thread with this fiction. Is Jeff really driven by some unseen, inexplicable force or is it just a story he tells himself?
Publication Date: January 11, 2022
Simon & Schuster
Avid Reader Press