A Taste of Christine Magnan's "Tangerine"

Sarah Harrison Smith on March 27, 2018

Christine_Mangan_author_photo_courtesy_of_Casey_Carsello.JPGIn this already-acclaimed debut novel, two college roommates cross paths in 1950s Morocco. But their reunion is tinged with distrust and fear. Just what is going on between Alice Shipley and Lucy Mason, formerly the best of friends? One has embarked on an impulsive marriage, and the other seems bent on reestablishing an unwelcome intimacy. Who is the hunter, who is the prey -- and who can be trusted?

Author Christine Magnan holds a Ph.D. in Gothic Literature, and though this is her first novel, she knows just how to toy with her readers' expectations. Tangerine is one spooky book, and we hope you'll enjoy this little taste of its exotic pleasures.

“I am Joseph,” he said, the decision made, moving toward me and extending his hand. He did not wear the traditional djellaba, I noted, though he was most certainly Moroccan. Instead he wore a pair of charcoal- gray trousers, a light button-up shirt that was rolled to the elbows. A thin scarf was thrown across his neck, and a tan fedora hat— adorned with a purple ribbon once again and which I suspected bore the stains of being worn in such unforgiving heat— sat on his head, tilted to the left. There was something dapper about his outfit, despite its thriftiness, or perhaps it was the way he wore it, with a jauntiness that was out of place among the other Moroccan men I had observed and who appeared, in comparison, solemn and grave.

I hesitated at his introduction only for a second— and then the word slipped from my mouth easily, as though it were true: “Alice.”

“Welcome to Tangier, mademoiselle.” He paused. “And where are you staying during your holiday, Alice?” He said the name so that the last part came out sounding like a hiss: Al-iss. He asked the question, his eyes averted, staring down and back into the medina. His tone was casual: deliberately so, as if he had rehearsed the question before it was asked.

“With friends,” I replied, trying to make my voice sound light, effortless— as though I were used to answering such questions from strangers, as though my life were spent moving from one place to the next, from Paris to Cairo and on to the Orient. I let the idea settle, the one that Alice and I had given birth to so many years ago now and that remained trapped, just beneath the surface, simmering, it seemed, waiting to be released. There were times when I could feel it— the desperation of wanting, wanting to watch the sun set over the pyramids, wanting to taste the salty egg and sweet cardamom noodles of Arabia. Wanting to be any-where and everywhere but the depressing tiny shared bedroom of a boardinghouse and knowing that it was impossible.

“And you are not afraid to explore the city, on your own?” he questioned.

I peered up at him, wondering what it was that he intended. “Should I be?” I asked.

He gave an exaggerated shrug. “Only last year we had a mad man running around the city with a butcher knife.

I eyed the streets in front of us, assessing. “And was anyone injured?”

“Yes, of course,” he answered easily. “The man killed five people and injured nearly half a dozen more.” He must have seen the hard look that I affixed on my face, for his expression lost some of its seriousness and he broke into a large grin— one that I found somehow more disconcerting than his formerly somber mask. “Relax,” he advised, pausing to bring a cigarette to his lips. “I was only teasing, Miss Alice.”

I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, wondering still at the motivation behind his words. “So that didn’t happen?”

His smile disappeared. “Oh no, it most definitely happened. The man was shot in the stomach before he was taken to Malabata prison. But you are quite safe here—t hat is the part I was teasing about. There is nothing to worry about now, Miss Alice,” he assured me. “Where are you from?”

“Chicago,” I lied.

“Chicago!” he exclaimed, frowning. “This is the most dangerous place of them all. I have a cousin who went to Chicago. It was very horrible, he said. Too many murders. You do not have to worry about such things here.” He paused. “But if you are looking for a place that makes sense, I feel I must provide this warning— you will be disappointed.” He let out a small laugh. “This is Africa, after all.” He grinned, his smile stretching across his gaunt, tanned face. “Many forget that, they think we are somewhere different entirely. This might be true, but it is also false. Tangier is still Africa. One need only consult a map to know this.” He turned back toward me, eyes boring into my own. “And where do your friends live?”

“In a flat,” I replied.

He smiled, thinly. “Yes, but where is this flat?”

I searched for an answer, unsure whether I wanted to part with such information. There was something about him that whispered he was harmless, another mosquito that could easily be flicked away, but still, the answer hung heavily on my tongue. I was not afraid of him or afraid for my safety. Men like him, I knew, were not the ones to fear. I was simply unsure— of what I had to offer him, of what he could offer me, of the potential usefulness that we might offer each other. “Beyond the medina, somewhere,” I finally answered. “I’m afraid I can’t offer any more specifics. I’ve only just arrived and I’m not too familiar with the city yet.”

Lies, we both knew. I could tell by the glint in his eye, the slight curve of his lip. The only question was how he would react to it. He tilted his head from side to side, as if weighing my answer, my betrayal. “This is good,” he finally observed. “It is better to be in a flat than a hotel. Unless you are only staying for a few days, then a hotel is always best.” He looked at me, waiting for a response.

“I’m staying for quite some time, I hope.”

He nodded, apparently pleased. “So you are a tourist?”

I nodded. “Yes, I suppose I am.”

“Not a traveler, then?” He laughed.

I puzzled over the difference in words— between tourist and traveler. I had never really been many places, had never really seen much, so I supposed myself a tourist rather than a traveler. But there was something in the way he had pronounced the words, a disdain for the former that suggested it was the latter that I should strive for— whether or not it was true. I began to place my coins on the table, my tea now empty. “Is there a distinction?”

“Yes, of course.”

I could see then, instantly, that I’d said the wrong thing— but that this was also what he wanted. To be able to shake his head and laugh at the naïveté of the young American woman in front of him. To lean in, with a conspirator’s grin, beckoning me to come closer, closer and closer still.

“You are unfamiliar with Bowles, I see. You must read him, if you wish to understand this place,” he instructed.

“Is he Moroccan?” I asked, unfamiliar with the name.

He laughed. “He is not Moroccan, no, but he spends a good deal of time here. We see one another often and wave. He is familiar, a neighbor. Not simply a famous writer.”

Bowles. I placed the name somewhere in my mind, making a mental note to check whether John had any of his work scattered among the unread books that lined the flat. For while I considered myself something of an expert in classical literature— particularly anything British— I was the first to admit my deficiencies in more contemporary work, as it had never managed to hold my attention in the same manner. Give me the wilds of an English moor, or the gritty urban streets of Victorian London, and I would feel, if nothing else, at home. But as to the latest stream of authors sweeping the country, I was essentially a novice.

Perhaps this is what the man offered— a guide to the country that Alice now called home, however reluctantly. Perhaps there was worth to be found there, I thought.

“I promise to read him, the very first chance I have,” I said.

“Good. Then you will learn the difference between a tourist and a traveler. And we shall see which one you are.” He leaned over, offering a cigarette. “Here.”

I paused— Alice did not smoke. The distinction seemed important to uphold, so I shook my head demurely. He shrugged and pulled an expression, as if to indicate it was my loss. And I did regret my decision— almost instantly. I inhaled the fragrant smoke: heavy and perfume-like. French, most likely. Gauloises. One didn’t smell many of them around Tangier, I had already noticed. I wondered if I could change my mind, but then, that would reveal a part of me to this stranger that I wasn’t yet sure I could trust. Better to remain behind the veneer a bit longer.

“I have a studio by the ocean, where I paint,” he said, after a few moments’ consideration. “This is where you must come.”

“By the ocean?” I repeated. After several days in Tangier, de-spite the fact that it was a port city, I had seen very little of the water. It was strange, I thought, the way the city was able to swallow you up so completely.

“Yes, it is next to Café Hafa. Do you know it?”

I shook my head.

“Ah,” he exclaimed, “this is the place you must go. It is where all the artists are. They also have the best mint tea,” he said, gesturing to my empty glass. “And the view— it is much better than this. Just the ocean, nothing else.”

“It sounds beautiful.”

“It is.” He smiled, nodding his head. He peered at me through the smoke. “So, Miss Alice, tell me. Do you want to see the real Tangier?”

I hesitated, assuming he meant to offer himself as a guide and wondering, at the same time, at the advisability of such an idea— disappearing into a city I knew little about, with a man about whom I knew even less. But then I thought of Alice, stagnated by fear, stuck inside the dark confines of her flat day after day, wait-ing for John to return from work. Waiting, both of us, always wait-ing. I shook my head, as if to shake the word from my mind, as if I could somehow physically dislodge it from my vocabulary. I had spent a good deal of my life waiting. Too much time. I nodded— a sharp, pointed gesture that conveyed my acceptance of his offer.

“Morocco is your home.” He said the words slowly, watching my face closely as he spoke. “Yes, it is yours. You are a Tangerine now.”

He pronounced it tangerine, like the fruit. I smiled, letting the thought settle. Morocco was mine. And it could be, I reasoned. After all, what did I have to return to? A damp, shared room on the wrong side of New York. Endless days spent typing up other writers’ manuscripts. Here I could finally write some-thing of my own, put pen to paper as I had always dreamed of during college— as Alice and I had dreamed, together. And if that meant making Morocco my own, I was prepared to do just that.

I was a Tangerine now, after all.

From TANGERINE by Christine Mangan. Copyright 2018 Christine Mangan. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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