He stood by the seawall with his ridiculous suitcase and looked at me with obvious annoyance. I could not think of what I had done to offend him. He was the typical prep school teacher. I can spot them with the accuracy of an accomplished birder coming upon a long billed egret – which in some ways he resembled. He was tall, but stooped, his head folded down under his wing, a habit, I supposed, from all that bending over desks and listening with cocked ear to student confessions. He looked a little lost. Teachers often do. It’s stepping out of the classroom which they control and finding themselves in the treacherous waters of the real world that does for them. Prep schools are full of men like him. You can spot them a mile away. Odd. Disoriented. Shy. What innocents! I’d cut my teeth on men like him. It was so absurdly simple! But this one had rainbows coming out of his mouth. And he was looking at me.
I spoke first. It seemed the natural thing to do. I think I remarked on the sun, or maybe it was the harbor, the boats darting back and forth like swallows over the sea. He must have heard me. We were only a few feet apart but instead of answering he gave me a single intense look, and then turned abruptly and left.
I started to call him back. I might have steered him to a proper boarding house. But the ridiculous man ignored me. I heaved my backpack up over my shoulder and clambered up onto the sea wall in search of a place to spend the night. I would like to say I forgot about him completely, but that is not true. Standing there on the quay, invoking the fates, I had found my muse. God knows why.
It was him.
The seduction begins on the Ile de Mer, an island in the Mediterranean so small and unimportant that no one is quite sure to which country it belongs. Three people meet there by chance (or is it?): Thalia, vibrant, alarmingly young, a would-be writer seeking her muse and fastening improbably on Kneedler, the shy skittish school teacher “ all knobs and joints with black hair like a rush of ink.” Waters, the narrator, a once successful New York editor long retired to the island, casts his cynical eye on the romance and Thalia’s relentless pursuit of Kneedler, while he schemes his own sly and perfidious seduction.
Part humor, part romance, Muse probes the explosive workings of the creative mind, its relationship to sex, the passion with which both are negotiated and, finally, the way in which reality and imagination collide and become art.