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A Drug-Fueled New York City Bacchanal and the Lives It Changed

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Amid a drug-fueled bacchanalian blowout that night, untold pieces of furniture and one naked body were tossed off the terrace of an Apelles penthouse apartment. Hazel, 6 years old at the time and sleeping in a guest room at the party, found herself at the center of the disaster, the events of which her father, the author Erwin Saltwater, wove into a best-selling novel that transformed him overnight into a literary titan.

Collateral damage of that artistic alchemy was Hazel’s identity, as she suffered two violations at that party. The first occurred when the senile lawyer Albert Caldwell, as his final act on earth, crawled into bed with her, took her hand and “carved himself a snug little slot” in her head, cramming it with his memories until she “had become a file cabinet for Albert’s history.”

Also crowding Hazel out of her own consciousness was her father’s fictionalized version of her. In the name of veracity (and Livings’s novel questions in a thousand ways whether such a thing exists), Hazel’s father did not change anyone’s name in his book. Thus, she recalls, “I became a photo negative, a child-shaped hole into which anyone who’d read the book tried to fit the Hazel they’d met in those pages.”

Now Hazel — who is further traumatized by the dematerialization of her husband at the World Trade Center on 9/11 — has set out to write her own version of “The Blizzard Party,” an excavation of her past and those of her father and neighbors. In Hazel’s view, Erwin got the whole thing wrong: “He’d translated my story without even consulting the original.”

It is hard not to hear, in all this telling and retelling, echoes of the family of Joseph Heller, who wrote much of the bombshell novel “Catch-22” in Apartment 2K South of the Apthorp, and who, like Erwin, both concealed and revealed himself by transmuting disturbing World War II experiences in his fiction. After Heller wrote about a man’s disaffection with his dreary children and wife in the 1974 novel “Something Happened,” Erica Heller, his daughter, parried the blow in a 1975 essay in Harper’s called “It Sure Did.” She then followed up with a 2011 memoir about growing up with her father in the Apthorp.

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