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A Model Wordsmith

His latest tale, Word, is a jazzy, ironic appreciation of writing, filmmaking, and chasing skirt. In two of those arts, at least, downtown novelist Coerte v. w. Felske seems more than passingly adept.


It's an unexpectedly hot, sticky night in late November, and though the police are trying to persuade the hundreds of revelers gathered around the iron gates of Joe's Pub to move along, inside the three-week-old Lafayette Street club a wild party is in full swing. Pink and red spotlights swirl over the sunken dance floor as models in backless dresses dance to Abba with the men who love them -- arch-rivals Donald Trump and Roffredo Gaetano; photographer Sante D'Orazio; tank-topped club impresarios Jeffrey Jah, Mark Baker, and Nur Khan; and a couple of well-known gossip columnists. An open-shirted Kevin Costner takes a breather in a banquette with Chuck Pfeiffer, Bob Shaye, and Peter Brant; from their table nearby, Emma S., Kara Young, and a few more models edging over 30 wriggle their fingers seductively in greeting. A movie premiere? A supermodel's birthday? No, it's a book party.

But one befitting Coerte v. w. Felske, the 38-year-old author of 1995's The Shallow Man and the upcoming Word, both of which are taut, clever character studies centered on this posse of older roués and slightly over-the-hill models -- all of whom the author considers close friends, the kind who come over for late-night glasses of port in the SoHo apartment he shares with gallery director Michiel van der Waal, brother to Frederique, and whichever South African or Dutch or Italian models are passing through town. That is, when he's not in Quogue playing tennis with Taki, or in St. Tropez with his new Czech-Croatian girlfriend who lives in Switzerland, or hanging out in L.A. at Monkey Bar with his old friend Jack Nicholson, who helped arrange for the filming of The Shallow Man (for protagonists, Felske's thinking "Pitt, Penn, Downey, DiCaprio, or Cage").

With his surfer's patois, a mellow constitution that he chalks up to being a Libra, and a practiced way of speaking similar to Mister Rogers's, Felske is beloved by all: a guy's guy and a model's guy, whose novels neatly refract their own lives through a highly ironic prism. He does take his shots at ponytailed, Vespa-riding, mannequin-addicted, SoHo-loft-living thirtysomethings who are hand models by day and party promoters by night. But Felske sympathizes with the dudes at the end, attributing their flaws to societal shortcomings and a general millennial ill will.

In Felske's world, models are called Thing (young ones are Baby Thing, stupid ones are Dialtones); the rest of womankind are Civilians. His girlfriends are Catsuit Feminists, and we, Generation Face, all live in the notoriety-obsessed Age of A (for Astonishment). His characters often think in these terms; what's more, their feelings are italicized: "No one wants to be sentenced to life at someone else's table. . . . I want the reservation in my own name. I want my own table and I want to fill it with whomever I fancy." Less self-consciously writerly than other colleagues who are concerned with this tribe, like Bret Easton Ellis or Jay McInerney, Felske confides that he writes his books in only a few weeks. "It's all about the voice," he says, often, as if it were a mantra.

Just tonight, Felske comes up with a theory he calls the Ten-Year Window. "Women only have the years from 20 to 30 to really do it up," he says, taking a seat at the bar next to Joaquin Phoenix. "For some, maybe 24 to 34." How to take this comment, delivered, to all appearances, by a guy who's apparently spent a little too much time with Things and not enough with Civilians? Auditing women's-studies classes while a grad student at Columbia's film school, he tells me, qualifies him as a feminist -- yet he suggests that women are different from men because they're "ruled by the moon." Oh.

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