Life Indigo (formerly titled "Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat")
Clarion Foreword Reviews Rating: 5 out of 5
2017 Foreword INDIES Awards Finalist
"This standout novel pulls no punches and paints an unforgettable Technicolor picture of a time we usually see in black and white.
Berlin 1938: what a time to be alive. Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat is a stunning, surreal historical fantasy that glitters with color and character. Although wartime Germany is often depicted as dull and grey, this novel sparkles. Set in a Jewish community during Hitler’s rise to power, Cursed Hat is one part noir, one part slapstick, and one part high-octane adventure.
Nothing is as it seems in Cursed Hat. The only rule seems to be “expect the unexpected.” Author Keith R. Fentonmiller dashes headlong into the topsy-turvy world of 1930s Berlin. Instead of being populated by characters dressed in dull felt, Fentonmiller’s Berlin is vivid and lush, packed with historic detail, colors, bright costumes, and hilarious dialogue. Cursed Hat celebrates life on the fringes of a fascist society.
Kasper Mützenmacher, inheritor of the family hat shop, the family “broad cockleshell of a schnoz,” and the family curse, is a complex, satisfying main character. His weakness for the magic hat that his mother keeps locked away sprouts into a full-fledged addiction. He can’t wait to slip the gryphon-skin fedora onto his head and explore the world, popping in and out of places he’s only ever dreamed of. Of course, it’s a magnet for trouble, including the terrifying Klaus, a veiled Nazi who steals women’s faces and brainwashes his victims.
The hat enables Kasper to escape the Nazis after he’s marked as a Jew. However, its curse is real, and Kasper must try to convince his family that it’s better off in the hands of the deity that created it.
Fentonmiller weaves an incredible, breakneck story that jumps from the personal to the political in a single breath. His wonderful sense of humor skewers tense scenes of explicit anti-Semitic violence.
Cursed Hat is not a comedy, but you can’t help but laugh. Why not? Kasper does. Fentonmiller also incorporates elements from contemporary politics, which adds to the novel’s noirish realism. Fentonmiller’s terrifying scenes of interrogation and transformation are phenomenal and add a dimension of thrilling psychological tension. Real life, he points out, is frightening—but the real enemy is hiding inside your mind.
Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat is the first in the Life Indigo series and promises more great writing to come. This standout novel pulls no punches and paints an unforgettable Technicolor picture of a time we usually see in black and white."
"This is an amazing debut novel--wildly imaginative, powerfully written, funny, and deeply humane. However mythic his characters--they include a Nazi interrogator with the power to make women incapable of seeing their own faces--Fentonmiller renders them fully and credibly. Equally impressive is his deft handling of a broad range of time and space--from Weimar Germany to sixties Detroit. This is a book not to be missed."
--Terence Hawkins, author of American Neolithic (named one of the Best Indie Books of 2014 by Kirkus Reviews)
"Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat is highly creative and imaginative, brimming with invention, mythology, psychology, secrets, characters, generations, cleverness and wisdom. Incredible, overwhelming, compelling."
--Catherine Bell, author of Rush of Shadows (winner of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House 2014 Fiction Prize)
Kasper wished himself from cabarets to booze cellars, concert halls, and boxing venues all over Europe and North America. Although hat travel made him queasy and headachy, whiskey took the edge off. Then, after a week of around-the-clock hat travel, the nausea and head pain receded, and he began to enjoy the rush of compression, expansion, and acceleration. Well, labeling the experience “enjoyable” would’ve been a vast understatement. The nascent drug addict doesn’t merely “enjoy” a shot of heroin or a puff of opium; he relishes it, embraces it, becomes one with it. Using feels like an act of self-creation—conception, gestation, and birth wrapped into a singular, lightning-strike moment. So it was with Kasper. With each wish, his eyes rolled into his skull, and pleasure waves rippled through him, culminating in orgasmic spasms, both psychic and physical. He craved wishing for wishing’s sake, not for the destinations the hat could take him. He couldn’t fathom his father’s admonition against using the wishing hat for fun. He saw no serious danger to life and limb. As far as he could tell, the greatest risk was embarrassment, like when he’d appeared in crowded Red Square, wobbly-kneed, wailing in ecstasy like an oversexed hyena.
But soon Kasper couldn’t ignore the side effects of so many trips over such a short span, or the inevitable truth that he was sowing the seeds of self-destruction. First came the blue-tinged vision—annoying but not debilitating. Then the tinnitus, which loud music exacerbated, so he stopped frequenting cabarets. Shortly thereafter, he gave up boxing matches because the mere sight of punches sent sympathetic jolts through his head. Soon, he couldn’t tolerate even basic human interactions. A perfunctory hello was a slap in the face. A cough was a knife to the kidneys. A smile was an arc lamp shone in the eyeball. Even the sound of his own breathing set his teeth on edge.
Things rapidly degraded in Miami. A black speck appeared in his dream world, like a persistent smudge on the window into his unconscious mind. In Paris, the speck swelled to the size of a dime and sprouted teeth around its circumference. In Vienna, the jagged dime began spinning like a buzz saw. Then, inside a stuffy London hotel room, his dreams went dark, as though the saw had cut the power to his subconscious. He shot awake with an intense itch in his brain. Stupidly, he assumed that scratching his head would alleviate the discomfort, not comprehending that the itch was far beneath his scalp, between his ears, inside that twisted mass of neural tissue that had put him in this predicament. He fantasized about a steel auger drilling deep into his brain and boring out that flaming nettle, that cruel burr, that angry urchin, that spiky caterpillar. The crude surgery would kill him but not before delivering a moment of profound, exquisite relief. So delirious had Kasper become, he formulated plans for the barbaric procedure. Where can I find a steel auger at this early hour and an unscrupulous auger operator to drill into my head? I’ll place an ad in The Times. No, an ad will take too long—a day, possibly a week, for someone to respond. Do auger owners read The Times? Do they even read? Jesus, it’s hopeless.
Kasper eyed the wishing hat on the bedside table. He couldn’t discern the scales from that distance; the deep black gryphon leather just looked like ordinary cowhide. Without a head for support, the hat had crumpled in on itself like a deflated pig’s bladder. Although the gryphon who’d donated its flesh was long dead, the hat’s leather remained very much alive; hence, its constant temperature of fifty degrees Celsius. But now the hat was manifesting traits Kasper’s father hadn’t mentioned—a mind of its own and a voice to match. The casual observer, had there been one, would have heard nothing, because the voice emanated from inside Kasper’s head.
“Put me on,” the hat teased. “Scratch that itch.”
Kasper looked away.
“I still see you,” the hat said playfully. “Let’s go for a ride.”
Kasper laughed, attempting to mock that inner voice into submission.
“Laugh all you want. The itch will only get worse. You feel how it burns? Imagine an hour from now. Two hours. It’ll be unbearable, I’m afraid. I predict you’ll throw yourself from the balcony.”
“You can’t predict anything,” Kasper shot back. “You’re a hat.”
“A god’s hat.”
“A dead god’s hat.”
“Hermes isn’t dead.”
“Might as well be dead.”
“He’ll resurface. He’ll reclaim me.”
“He blew his chance three hundred years ago.”
“He was destined to fail. Daphne’s sisters weren’t yet born.”
“When’s that gonna happen?”
“Haven’t a clue.”
“Meaning I’ll make hats for the rest of my life.”
“It’s not fair, goddamnit! I didn’t steal you.”
“That’s the way curses work. Might as well accept that.”
“Or what? What if I never return to the hat shop?”
“You’ll die. You’re nearly dead already.”
“Ridiculous! I’m in excellent health.”
“You’re delusional. You’re succumbing, just like the others.”
“The Mützenmachers and Petasoses that came before. You all share that same emptiness. If you’re not filling the void with booze or opium, you’re wishing yourselves away from it. But you can’t get away. It’s in your blood.”
“I can stop wishing myself places anytime I want.”
“Then stop. Lock me back in the safe and start making hats like an obedient little Mützenmacher.”
“Go to hell.”
“Put me on, and we’ll go together.”
“Hell’s not a real place… is it?”
“Only one way to find out.”
Kasper winced from the itch searing into his brain.
“Maybe you’re already there,” the hat added.
“Come on, Kasper. Just one puny, little wish. It doesn’t have to be far. The street corner will do. It’ll scratch that itch. I promise.”
“How the hell can a hat promise anything?”
“Asked the man arguing with his hat.”
Irritated, Kasper plucked the hat from the table and stuck it on his head.
“Yes. Good,” the hat said encouragingly.
Kasper envisioned the street corner. He saw the Victorian gas lamp dangling from the gooseneck post, the fixture resembling a giant Chess pawn giving birth to a glass bubble. He pictured its warm light puddling on the impractical cobblestone sidewalk. He didn’t need to be that specific with his wish, but he wouldn’t leave anything to chance. He had to scratch that inner itch.
Take me there. And the hat did just that.