A WRITER'S WIT
When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.
Born January 29, 1737
Engineering: a difficult science
Behind the Book is a weekly series in which I discuss the creative process it takes to write each of the fifteen narratives included in my latest collection, My Long-Playing Records and Other Stories. Scroll to the bottom of the post to locate links to previous Behind the Book posts.
“Engineer” is a story I wrote immediately after my father died. Sadly, it is a cathartic effort to distill all the events, all the characters in our real life story: an adult son who, through no choice of his own, must manage this man’s life; a younger adult son, who seems to avoid accepting any responsibility at all for his father, other than the most superficial attention he can offer; a father, who when they were children favored one son over other. And a bitter sense of irony will tell you right away which son must extend himself to care for this irascible father in his last days.
This story may have been one of the most difficult ones I ever penned: how to express the suppressed rage I felt at the time—having the very start of my retirement stunted by the intrusion of this man into my life. Again. The sessions with a shrink where I grappled, as a man in my fifties, with how I’d been treated as a child—the many ways my father ignored or rejected me. Enraged at the times a brother showed up every six weeks to balance our father’s checking accounts, and then pop back to his home, thinking he’d done quite enough to help the father who’d spent so much time with that son as a child. How did I capture the rage without offending the reader? Perhaps with a biting sarcasm, the protagonist referring to his brother as “Blessed Prince.”
A PASSAGE FROM THE STORY:
Before the afternoon is over, I call my father and the Bellwood administrator and let them know I’m going to be gone. I reschedule his appointment. I call Uri and tell him he’ll have to cover for me if anything should happen. He grunts—as he always has if he doesn’t want to be held responsible. Blessed Prince once neglected to feed our spaniel because he was in a baseball tournament for three days. I thought it was Vinnie’s turn, he kept saying. I’m sure it was Vinnie’s turn. This is the same lad who wrote JFK in 1961 and asked for a photo. Could you also send one of Richard Nixon? Please (218).
“Engineer” won an award from a short fiction competition sponsored by The Ledge, a literary magazine out of Bellport, New York. The journal celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with the issue in which my story appeared.
Photograph of "Engineer": Karolevitz, Robert F. The Prairie is My Garden: The Story of Harvey Dunn, Artist. Aberdeen: North Plains Press, 1969.
Click here to buy a copy of My Long-Playing Records and Other Stories, where it is available at Amazon.
NEXT TIME: NEW YORKER FICTION 2015
CATCH UP WITH EARLIER POSTS OF BEHIND THE BOOK
11/13/14 — Introduction to My Long-Playing Records
11/20/14 — "My Long-Playing Records" — The Story
11/27/14 -- "A Certain Kind of Mischief"
12/04/14 — "Ghost Riders"
12/11/14 — "The Best Mud"
12/18/14 — "Handy to Some"
12/25/14 — "Blight"
01/01/15 — "A Gambler's Debt"
01/09/15 — "Tales of the Millerettes"
01/15/15 — "Men at Sea"
01/22/15 — "Basketball Is Not a Drug"