The idea for Cambridge novelist Anne Bernays’s 10th novel started with a startling admission she heard secondhand. The tale was related to her by her husband, Justin Kaplan, who heard it from a student in a memoir writing class he was teaching in 2001.
That student, Berry Berenson Perkins, had been married to actor Anthony Perkins. She said she wanted to write a memoir about something she hadn’t discovered until after he died: her husband had brought his male lover into the house they shared.
Perkins’s widow died later that year, but Bernays kept thinking about her story. “I was really intrigued,” she said in a recent phone interview. How was it possible for a married man to carry out an affair with another man in the house he shared with his wife?
Bernays’s answer is her novel “The Man on the Third Floor” (Permanent), which is narrated by a successful book editor living on the Upper East Side of New York in the 1950s who has an affair with the man who comes to measure his office for new carpeting.
To find out how the subterfuge succeeded — or didn’t — you’ll have to read the book or listen for a clue when Bernays reads from it at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Porter Square Books in Cambridge.
Tribute to a homeland
Neville D. Frankel, who immigrated to Boston from Johannesburg with his family when he was 14, didn’t return to his native country for 38 years. By then, apartheid had ended. He returned several times more, researching his self-published novel “Bloodlines,” which explores the bloody truths of apartheid in a sweeping narrative that covers five decades.
The book launch party, from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Boston Public Library, will be a multigenerational, multimedia affair. Traditional Zulu ballads will be sung and the evening will feature other musical performances as well as video and photographs shot in South Africa.
The Rev. Liz Walker will emcee and moderate a Q&A with the author, a Newton resident. The program will also feature remarks by Michael Langa who worked alongside Bishop Desmond Tutu during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s hearings, and a poetry reading by Freddy Frankel, the author’s father, who lived under apartheid’s rule. Each poem will be set against an image from his life in South Africa. The evening will end with the singing of the South African national anthem.
A celebration of the 204th birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, who was born about a block from Boston Common on Jan. 19, 1809, will take place at the Boston Public Library on Saturday from 3 to 4:30 p.m. In addition to readings from works Poe published in Boston, the program will feature an update on the Poe Statue Project by sculptor Stefanie Rocknak and the Poe Foundation of Boston’s annual lecture on Poe and Boston.
■ “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism” by Melvin A. Goodman (City Lights)
■ “Dinner with Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table” by Cita Stelzer (Pegasus)
■ “The Last Runaway” by Tracy Chevalier (Dutton)
Caitlin Caulfield of Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley recommends “The Colour of Milk” by Nell Leyshon (Fig Tree).
“A gripping story of power, family, and self-determination, this novel reads less like historical fiction and more like a memoir. Mary is a hard-working but willful farm girl in rural England until her abusive father ‘sells’ her to the local vicar as a servant. Her new position brings her opportunities for education, but there are consequences.”Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.