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Thread: The Whole World Smiles With You

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    The Whole World Smiles With You

    [Author's Note: All comments are welcome for this piece. There won't be any quiz at the end, but just for laughs, feel free to guess the two novels to which the story alludes. The first book is easy, almost insultingly so, but the second one is a little more difficult. Here are a few hints: the novel was published within the last five years, and its appearance was greeted as a literary "event." NitLetters have often mentioned the author, but to my knowledge a thread for this specific novel has not yet been posted in the "Write a Book Review" forum.]

    The Whole World Smiles With You

    by Aunt Shecky

    All Rights Reserved

    With his typical mixture of pique and dread Ivan Burns came downstairs to what was called at that time of day the Breakfast Table. His father’s grunt was barely audible below his mother’s chirpy greeting, tagged with a good-natured query.

    “Why the pickle puss? They say you use more muscles to frown than to smile.” With her index fingers she upturned the corners of her lips, but the cue failed to ignite, bombing like a bad joke.

    Her son of late had entrenched himself into a habit of starting the day with a grouch on. Already the malaise had made itself at home with an effortless familiarity breeding a perverse comfort.

    He picked up a whiff of something slightly sulfuric under his nose. His mother was waving a plate of fried eggs, unappetizingly flat except for their gooey yellow centers, guaranteed to run with the lightest prick of a fork tine. Flanking these were some brittle toast triangles and a couple of fat greasy tubes. Ivan shook his head.

    “You sure you can’t eat anything, Honey? You know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

    “Just coffee, please,” he said. “Black.”

    From behind the newspaper curtain game a growl. “Just like his clothes. Unless he’s dressing for a part in some dreary Russian play. ”

    “You don’t have to refer to me in the third person, Dad. I’m here.”

    “I bet he’s got the lead in Ivan the Terrible.”

    Ivan’s rejoinder stood ready: “The Eighties called -- they want their print media back,” but was never fired, as the target had moved on, taking issue with an editorial point he’d just read aloud.

    “Well, that’s a matter of opinion,” his father said, “like labeling these eggs ‘Large.’ “



    In First Period Ms Lipton rhapsodized about the novel du jour. She had “fought for” its acceptance in the syllabus, against helicopter parents and the craven School Board in yet another skirmish flaring up whenever the charge of “inappropriateness” arose in intermittent but predictable cycles, like cicadas. This particular book was her baby, and her students knew it.

    It was not easy to tune out the teacher’s voice gushing in the background, but Ivan gave it a try by drumming on his desk with his fingers, still sticky from the doughnut and untoasted Pop-Tart he’d swiped before leaving the kitchen that morning. Just as surreptitiously, he directed his attention to a certain desk in the row by the window - Yes! - La Bellarosa was not absent but definitely present - in the flesh.

    He watched her surrendering to a lusty yawn, raising her tanned arms and stretching her upper torso, eminently attractive, especially in profile. Ivan permitted himself the momentary pleasure of the mere sight of her. In his opinion her pubescence had been a resounding success. Her physical attractiveness more than compensated for her apparent lack of intellectual curiosity, a trait which Ivan did not require in his women.

    “So I’m wondering how you guys felt about it. Anybody? Ivan?”

    He didn’t hear the question. No biggie. Ivan knew the book well enough to wing it, since having read it on his own back in seventh grade, when the rest of his classmates had struggled with grade-level drivel. He cleared his throat. “To tell you the truth, the protagonist doesn’t really strike me as a sympathetic character.”

    Ivan spoke authoritatively, even as the occupant in the seat behind him kept jabbing his back with a stick pen at regular intervals, each stab accompanied with a whispered epithet.

    “Dweeb.”

    “He habitually criticizes people behind their backs. This one’s a phony, that one has mossy teeth and so forth.”

    “Tool.”

    “At the same time he imagines himself this noble savior of children. He’s a self-styled hero.”

    “Poser.”

    “I submit that Holden himself is inauthentic, as big a phony as everybody else.”

    “Faggy McFag Fag.”

    At the last jab, Ivan discreetly turned around and glared at his attacker before speaking to the teacher and the class at large. “Frankly, I can’t understand why this book is so admired, let alone controversial.” He shot a quick glance over at La Bellarosa, who was tapping out a text on a haphazardly concealed smart phone. Perhaps she was tweeting about Ivan’s impressive take on the book. It didn’t occur to him to gauge the teacher’s reaction.

    “That’s very interesting, Ivan.” Lipton made a triangle with her hands, touching the tips of her fingers as if she were about to play the this-is-the-church-this- is-the-steeple game. “But that’s not what I asked. See me after class.”

    At the bell, he tried slipping out, but she yanked him back in. “What’s going on at home? How’s Mom?”

    Instantly Ivan knew that she was referring to his mother, not her own, but the patronizing tone irritated the hell out of him.“She’s well, thank y--”

    “And Dad – you have a good relationship with him?”

    “I suppose so, but frankly, Ms Lipton, I fail to see how–“

    Her hand reached across the desk toward his hands, but she did not touch them. “Tell me, Ivan,” she said, lowering her voice a notch, “don’t you have any friends?”

    “Or, as you professionals prefer to call them, my ‘peer group,’ “ Ivan said with a chuckle which the teacher did not echo. “The so-called student body with whom I happen to occupy this building roughly one-hundred and eighty days a year may fall into my chronological age group, but other than that, I have nothing in common with them.”

    “Different talents?”

    Ivan shook his head. “Different interests, one could say, and- if their obsession with bonehead video games is any indication- a marked disparity regarding, um, cognitive ability. To tell you the truth, Ms Lipton, I don’t care to associate with those Boeotians. At times I find them insufferable.”

    “Insufferable. I know what you mean –“

    “I’m sorry, Ms Lipton, but I must get to my next class. Would you please, um, get to the point?”

    The teacher folded her hands and leaned backward. “The point is, Ivan, you are a very intelligent young man. You’re articulate and lord knows you’re no slouch when it comes to critical thinking –“

    “But?-“

    “We’re becoming concerned. Very concerned. Okay, so we know teenagers tend to be a teensy bit moody now and then, but Ivan, don’t you think– well, it might be a good idea to start trying to get a positive attitude –“

    The warning bell signaled the imminent start of the next class period. “Excuse me. I’ve got to run.”

    In truth Ivan was in no particular hurry but nonetheless merged with the herd streaming through the corridors. The traffic was strictly one-way, according to school rules. It didn’t matter if the next class was in the room directly behind that of the previous class; the student had to go around the entire circuitous route or risk detention, which he’d also face for tardiness, an inevitable effect of following the traffic rule. Catch-22, secondary school style.

    He was already late by the time he made it down to the basement level. The cardinal rule for teachers apparently involved meticulously maintaining attendance records, higher up on the urgency scale than lessons or testing or assigning grades. Taking attendance was required for each individual class period, including gym. The gym teacher, who insisted upon being addressed as “Coach,” carried a roster on a clipboard for this purpose. He checked off names first thing, right there in the locker room while the students changed into their gym uniforms, the roll-call ritual having evolved from the assumption that the fast-paced activity within the gymnasium itself would be - supposedly - too frenetic to allow for an accurate count.

    As soon as Ivan ascertained that he’d been marked “Present,” he ducked between a row of lockers to watch the rest of the class jog single file into the gym until the last of these quasi-athletes received the slap on the backside from the coach, bringing up the rear. A shrill blast came from the coach’s whistle, followed by an almost instantaneous bouncing of balls and the blast of shouts. Still wearing his black street clothes - the industrial gray tee shirt with the stenciled school logo and the ridiculous gym shorts never moving an inch from his locker–Ivan made his move.

    The noise inside the gym muted the sound of the fire door squeaking open. No danger from a sudden gust of wind slamming it shut and re-locking, thanks to an inconspicuous and strategically-placed rock.

    Outside the building Ivan began to stroll through the assiduously-groomed acreage including the expansive green oblong, which still in late May was freshly chalk-scored with regularly-spaced parallel lines, the terminus of both ends marked with an erect letter “H”; as well as a baseball diamond, and a common area adaptable for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, or what-have-you, the entire complex circumscribed by a state-of-the-art running track.“Fools!” Ivan muttered, at the thought of wannabe superstars nurturing their delusions, as well as those who’d been coerced or otherwise persuaded by their parents and teachers to “try out” for football, basketball or some other competitive endeavor, the participation to be noted on some mysterious personal file, with accumulated data geared to enhance a college application. Actual aptitude for sports and athletic ability – or more likely lack of it - was never really part of the equation. It irked him that he could never convince his father of this reality.

    Ivan climbed up the bleachers, and perching on the row second-from -the-top, lit one of the cigarettes he’d earlier purloined from his mother’s purse – a theft for which he’d never be punished, let alone accused, since she herself wasn’t supposed to have them. Stretching back, he surveyed the surrounding scene as if he owned it. Beyond the athletic fields he saw a small wooded area, the treetops in full leaf brushing the sky, with only a few white puffs interrupting the blue. Even at this distance, Ivan could make out the sounds of birds, proclaiming spring in their joyous mating calls, while late-blooming lilacs and early roses bussed the mild air with their intermingled yet not unpleasant aromas. Everywhere he looked Peace and Beauty conspired to threaten his mood. Time to get out of there before he lost his edge.


    Theoretically, re-entering the building the same way as he’d exited it seemed logical, not to mention convenient. The door itself had remained exactly as he’d left it. Ivan’s timing, however, was off. By sheer chance, the locker room was occupied, this time with females, specifically the 4th period Girls PE class. Though slightly surprised, Ivan was neither abashed nor delighted by the sight of twenty-odd ninth graders in various states of deshabille.

    To Ivan’s eminent relief, no shrieks or similar expressions of shock greeted him. Preoccupied with the act of changing their clothes, the girls chattered and giggled like birds in an animated cartoon. None seemed to notice the intruder, except one, the middle child of the family who resided in the house next to his. Ivan raised his finger to his lips, and she shook her head. A quick look around did not reveal the instructor, but with a quick peek into the gym proper, Ivan saw the back of her petite figure and her bottle-blonde ponytail bobbing as she tied one end of a volleyball net to a post. He slipped into the corridor and made his way up a flight of stairs.

    No student in the school ever had any trouble locating the cafeteria. A newcomer or a blind man could have found it simply by “following his nose.” Every day between eleven and one a sickly miasma from the steam tables permeated the first floor. Regardless of what was being served on any particular day, a odor vaguely akin to vegetable soup hung in the air. Yet suffering the worst assault was the sense of hearing: the unnerving cacophony was relentless, not sudden nor startling like the roar of a movie monster. There was no discernible pattern at all, no high notes nor lows, no crescendo nor decrescendo, but rather a sustained collective voice, a buzzing anti-chorus counterpointed here and there with shouts, horselaughs, and shrieks. This, Ivan imagined, was a librarian’s idea of Hell.

    Amid the funk and the stench and the noise, Ivan spotted his beautiful blossom right away; as if a sweeping beacon proclaimed her presence, signaling to distressed sailors a reassuring presence to counter a storm or a raging sea. Ivan could swear that she was lit by a golden glow visible only to the Worthy. Now and then she took a dainty bite of ambrosia, and here and there turned to share a confidence with one of her ladies-in-waiting. Ivan yanked himself back into reality with the awareness that the combined group at that table would be hard-pressed to replicate the interior life of a gnat. He moved in for a closer look.

    Ivan stood at the end of her table, for what seemed to be an eternity. Finally, with the pointed end of her sandwich a millimeter from her lips, she acknowledged him. “What?”

    “A moment of your time if I may, Annelise.” He found himself nearly shouting to compete with the din. “I just want to tell you that I’ve been admiring you for quite a while, and I must say that compared with – no, compared to- the typical females within this milieu-- all those interchangeable Ashleys and Madisons and Olivias, you –by far- are the loveliest–“

    At this point La Bellarosa’s subalterns had begun rolling their eyes and elbowing one another. Somebody was recording a video of Ivan with her cell phone.

    “Yeah, so?”

    “So, while I’m not the type of person who usually pays attention to such things as um, frivolous social functions, I understand that a certain affair is in the offing–“

    Instantly the word “affair” inspired guffaws among the table mates, along with some rhetorical questions. “Is this dude for real?”

    Ivan continued with his pitch. “I thought I’d mention the fact that I would not be unwilling to accompany you to this event, provided, of course, you were amenable to the offer, which I obviously hope would prove to be mutually enjoyable.”

    La Bellarosa took a swig of her bottled water. She looked at Ivan as if he were an insect coming in for a landing on her person. “What the hell are you talking about? The Prom? You’re asking me to the Prom?”

    “Well, yes essentially. Yes I am.”

    She raised one of her elegant hands and slapped the table, as if squashing the aforementioned bug. “Un-freakin’-be-LEE-vable! You look at the calendar much?”

    “Excuse me?”

    “The Prom is like a week from Friday? And you’re asking me now? “

    Ivan felt like slapping his own forehead. What had he been thinking? A girl this good-looking undoubtedly booked her engagements months in advance. “I should have known,” he said. “Sorry.” It was the most sincere statement he’d made all day.

    But – what if he had approached her earlier? Would he have stood a better chance? His brain went into overdrive in search of a subtle way to broach this sub-topic, but La Bellarosa wasn’t quite finished.

    “Besides,” she said, “I don’t think nobody would wanna go out with cha? No offense. “ As she made a little pout, an independent exhalation puffed upward, gently tousling a soft curl on her crown. “I mean, like you’re kinda boring? You walk around like your poop doesn’t stink? Like you think you’re better than us? No offense.”

    “No, that’s not true, I–“

    “Besides, you’re always dissing everybody? I mean, I just can’t be around negative people right now?

    What did she mean “right now”? That she would be able to tolerate him some other time, say, in the not-so-distant future?

    As Ivan opened his mouth to inquire about his chances in the days (or weeks) ahead, he heard a voice that was recognizably masculine, but with vestiges of the crackling higher octaves of a boy. “This creep bothering you, Babe?”

    Ivan secretly prayed that La Bellarosa would answer in the negative, but she said nothing at all. “The lady’s not interested, you hear?” the thug said. “So run along, Sonny.”

    He turned around and faced his accuser, a fellow inmate. “Excuse me? I have a perfect right to speak with a fellow classmate –“

    “Not with her you don’t! Get it?“

    Ivan “got it,” all right. La Bellarosa had already been spoken for, apparently by this very specimen, as undistinguished as any of the other troglodytes roaming the corridors of this institution. What in blazes did she see in him? That’s what Ivan didn’t “get.”

    With a menacing look adapted from stock characters in action movies, the rival stared into Ivan’s face. The troublemaker was a good six inches shorter, so Ivan literally “looked down” on him. On the other hand, the punk was built like a riding mower.

    “So what are ya waitin’ for, Doofus? Beat it!” This was punctuated with a serious shove to Ivan’s shoulder.

    For a tiny fraction of a second, the noise in the cafeteria stopped, as if somebody had pulled the plug of an amplifier out of the wall. Just as suddenly, came the gleeful shouts: “Fight! Fight!” Red meat for the unwashed masses.

    The last thing Ivan ever wanted to test was his mettle. And the last place he wanted to do it was in a high school cafeteria version of Madison Square Garden. But this was no time for leisurely reflection – it was, as the cliché went - put up or shut up time.

    Ivan stretched out his hands, wiggled his fingers and made two fists. When his challenger did the same, Ivan dropped his hands to his side and took two steps to walk away. Without warning, he turned back around with his body contorted into an unusual posture. A parsec later he executed an exotic move and decked the kid.

    “What d’ya know--” Ivan remarked, “I guess those tae kwon do lessons my father forced me to take weren’t a total waste of time.”


    Ivan arrived home to find both his parents already there: his mother’s mouth was tight-lipped with the corners pointing the wrong way; his father standing stiffly as the Grand Inquisitor. With no one saying a word, every second of silence felt like an accusation. Finally – “Well?”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Mind telling your mother and me what the hell is going on?“ His father moved his fingers as if he were waving to himself. “Come on.”

    “Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you. I –“

    “You can start by explaining exactly what happened today. I just got off the phone with the principal. Let’s hear your version.”

    Evidently this was not meant as an actual command, for when Ivan opened his mouth to speak, his father cut him off.

    “Brawling in school, for starters. Cutting classes. Even when you don’t skip class, you don’t pay attention. You disrespect your teachers, and if to top it all off, you’re not even man enough to show up for after-school detention!”

    “I didn’t even know I was supposed to–“

    “And what’s this I hear about stalking the Bellarosa girl? What’s next – are we going to find out about you some night on the Eleven O’Clock News?”

    “What do you want me to say?”

    “Your mother thinks you’re going through a ‘phase,’ " he said, scratching the air with his fingers. “If that’s what it is, you’d better snap yourself out of it pretty damn quick–“

    “It’s no big deal. I just–“

    His father raised an index finger. “Shut your trap. I’ve just about had it with you. You’re a sociopath!”

    His mother chimed in. “That’s going too far. You can’t say that about your own son!”

    “You keep it out of it! You’re the reason he’s so messed up in the first place.”

    Ivan saw his mother’s shoulders jump up, as if she’d seen a mouse. She rushed toward the front door, not to leave but to grab something on the hallway stand–-her bag, which she desperately rifled through. Stress piling on stress. “Oh, where are they?” Ivan heard her ask. “I could have sworn there was a pack in here.”

    “You are nothing but trouble! Big time. Your mother and I have to take time out of work to go to a meeting at your school. They want us to send you to a therapist. A therapist! Who’s going to pay for that, huh?”


    As punishments go, being confined to one’s room was not the same as being banished to Siberia. Eventually his mother would sneak in with a sandwich. She’d sit on the side of the bed and stroke his head. “Oh, Ivan. Ivan,” she’d say. “What are we going to do with you?” Then she’d tell him how her only wish was for him to be happy and that these were supposed to be the best years of his life.

    Yeah, uh-huh, right. Subsequently all downhill from there.

    Meanwhile, Ivan had his laptop, tv, and plenty to read. He picked a novel he’d bought at the used book sale at the library. He opened it to a random page one of several which he previous owner had defaced with a bold highlighter. Ivan abhorred the practice as childish, but the words covered in Day-Glo orange caught his attention:

    “As most adults know, the distinctions between one’s essential character and value and people’s perceptions of that character/value are fuzzy and hard to delineate, especially in adolescence."
    “Hmm.” Ivan tried resisting the inevitable personal application to the passage. It dawned on him that, like most adolescents, he craved acknowledgment but at the same time if anyone should show the least bit of interest in him, he’d undoubtedly run away as a rabbit from a coyote. He slapped the book shut and tossed it back into the pile.

    For some reason, Ivan began to muse about coolness, the idea of being “cool.” He dismissed the kind of “cool” the inmates admired: the perception of panache, the all-but-invisible swagger. That was a manufactured attitude, lame as hell, for the minute a guy walks around pretending he’s “cool,” or even has the presumption to aspire to coolness, he’s as far away from it as he is ever going to be.

    And it wasn’t the same as the movie version of a cool guy, like Clint Eastwood in the “Dirty Harry” era as opposed to his more recent persona of a cantankerous geezer shooing punks off his lawn. Nor was it the unflappable Mr. Spock.

    But there was something to be said for being cool in the sense of not showing emotion, not - as the idiom went - wearing one’s heart on his sleeve. One could be a Man of Mystery, unreadable, inscrutable, never letting anyone know when he was happy. Or hurting. The only problem was with other people who thought that he looked like he had a ramrod stuck up his butt.

    In the privacy of Ivan’s room, though, all masks were off, all guises suspended. The door remained shut, and no one would be the wiser if he treated himself to a good cry – or do exactly what he felt like doing at the moment, giving in to the irresistible impulse to turn the corners of his lips upward and stretch his mouth into an ear-to-ear grin.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 07-14-2014 at 06:24 PM.

  2. #2
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Dear Aunty
    You have always had a distinct, not to say "unique" style, but I discern now a greater subtlety in your writing which is both effective and enjoyable.
    Well done. Top drawer.
    M

    (P.S. As its a long time since I have read any modern literature, I'm at a loss regards the two stories referred to in your introduction. For some reason I had in my head a mixture of; Catcher in the Rye, something Russian, or one of Steve's stories with your use of the word "dude!")

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    Registered User 108 fountains's Avatar
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    MANICHEAN is right. “Subtle” is the key word in this portrayal of an unhappy kid in an unhappy family. Seems like every literary journal I pick up these days is filled with stories about abysmally dysfunctional families – abusive fathers, alcoholic mothers, drug-addicted teens. In this dysfunctional family, however, the characters are within normal bounds – the father is severe without being overtly abusive, the mother sneaks nothing worse than cigarettes when she feels she is losing control, and the teenager has difficulty relating to his peers, but is not a meth-head and is unlikely to be carrying an AK-47 to school. Keeping the characters teetering on the edge is what makes them believable.

    I like the portrayal of the mother best – how she puts on a “chirpy” appearance to cover the discontent below the surface. The adolescent Ivan is harder to figure out, which is the point of the story. He sees through the pointlessness of much of his world, and as a result, he puts on a sullen exterior and unlikeable demeanor, but then he seems surprised and annoyed that the girl he likes appears uninterested in him. The two paragraphs where he goes outside give a pretty good explanation of his internal conflicts and summary of his personality:

    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    Outside the building Ivan began to stroll through the assiduously-groomed acreage including the expansive green oblong still, which still in late May was freshly chalk-scored with regularly-spaced parallel lines, the terminus of both ends marked with an erect letter “H”; as well as a baseball diamond, and a common area adaptable for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, or what-have-you, the entire complex circumscribed by a state-of-the-art running track.“Fools!” Ivan muttered, at the thought of wannabe superstars nurturing their delusions, as well as those who’d been coerced or otherwise persuaded by their parents and teachers to “try out” for football, basketball or some other competitive endeavor, the participation to be noted on some mysterious personal file, with accumulated data geared to enhance a college application. Actual aptitude for sports and athletic ability – or more likely lack of it - was never really part of the equation. It irked him that he could never convince his father of this reality.

    Ivan climbed up the bleachers, and perching on the row second-from -the-top, lit one of the cigarettes he’d earlier purloined from his mother’s purse – a theft for which he’d never be punished, let alone accused, since she herself wasn’t supposed to have them. Stretching back, he surveyed the surrounding scene as if he owned it. Beyond the athletic fields he saw a small wooded area, the treetops in full leaf brushing the sky, with only a few white puffs interrupting the blue. Even at this distance, Ivan could make out the sounds of birds, proclaiming spring in their joyous mating calls, while late-blooming lilacs and early roses bussed the mild air with their intermingled yet not unpleasant aromas. Everywhere he looked Peace and Beauty conspired to threaten his mood. Time to get out of there before he lost his edge.
    I liked the ending, but would have liked it more, if there had been a clue what he was smiling about – was it the absurdity of his situation? The absurdity of life in general? The realization that "peace and beauty" lay not so far beyond his everyday world? Something else? It may that Ivan himself doesn’t know why he has the urge to smile and that you want the reader to fill in the blank. That’s okay, but I was left wondering why.

    The only other criticism I have is minor – the two paragraphs where he snuck back into school through the locker room seemed unnecessary to me and might be best just left out. It seemed strange to me that boys and girls would share the same locker room at the school (albeit at different times), but whether it’s uncommon or not, I didn’t get the point of that particular passage.

    Overall, a realistic but engaging, portrait of the “fuzzy and hard to delineate” character and perceptions of adolescence.
    Last edited by 108 fountains; 07-11-2014 at 10:47 AM.
    A just conception of life is too large a thing to grasp during the short interval of passing through it.
    Thomas Hardy

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    Thanks so much, MANICHAEAN and 108 fountains, for your interesting comments!

    It usually goes against Sheckian principles to " 'splain" these ditties, but because a couple of questions came up, I'll try to answer them.

    First, a little background. About three or four months ago I began thinking about writing version of Ivanov in a updated setting, with a little satire thrown in,that's all. I wanted to do a treatment of the quasi-intellectual, permanently pissed off, preternaturally depressed Romantic archetype. Other than that, I didn't really have a prescribed notion of how the story would turn out. Yer auntie's usual M.O. is to write the damn thing first and only when it's finished try to figure out what the hell it's all about. (You were on to something, MAN, when you detected something "Russian" about it: the Chekov allusion, as well as the father's breakfast table line about Ivan's black clothes.)

    As always, I wanted it to be funny, but as your comments noted, the jokes might have been too "subtle." Thematically -- now there's a word straight out of Academia!-- I guess it says something about how American children are raised today, that they're groomed to fulfill a parent's notion of the perfect child -- or to quote the line from the late,great Frank Zappa --"Americans don't want kids-- they want artifacts." You almost believe some parents would be willing to go to the Pottery Barn and exchange the kid for someone more to their taste.

    Another notion --which occurred to me a few hours after posting -- is as an indictment against the obsessive campaign for "self-esteem" in the country's public schools. Unlike the other inmates of the high school, Ivan is smart enough to recognize that nobody is "great!" just because the teachers tell him so.Without the corroborating achievement, "self-esteem" is phony, as artificial as cheese food.

    Ivan adopts a persona which isn't completely authentic but somehow a way to distinguish himself from the rest of the pack, the troglodytes and the "dudes." He's what educationists might classify as "gifted," but instead of adapting a personal curriculum that neither bores nor insults him, he's stuck in regular classes, which must seem to him like elementary school.

    On top of everything else, he's supposed to "conform," even if that entails a so-called "positive" attitude or smiling when he doesn't really feel like it. He really doesn't want to be told what to "feel." That's why, in the privacy of his room, he can be his true self, where he's the one to choose whether to cry or laugh. Hence, the smile. (Or maybe he's remembering how he decked the guy.)

    Thanks again for weighing in on this.

    Auntie

    PS-- The Catcher in the Rye for the classroom novel is correct. Here are a couple more hints for the second novel, whose highlighted passage appears in the story's conclusion. The author of that novel is a male. He died at an early age, and his name has three parts: first, middle name, and last name. ( It's not John Kennedy Toole, though.)
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 07-11-2014 at 03:48 PM. Reason: line breaks

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    Registered User DATo's Avatar
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    Greetings Auntie,

    A nicely wrought and a very enjoyable-to-read yarn. My compliments!

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    Thank you, DATo, for your encouraging words.

    Auntie

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    The Catcher in the Rye for the classroom novel is correct. Here are a couple more hints for the second novel, whose highlighted passage appears in the story's conclusion. The author of that novel is a male. He died at an early age, and his name has three parts: first, middle name, and last name.
    Just in case anybody wants to guess the second novel, here are a few more hints:

    The novel was published in 2011, a few years after the author's death. The manuscript was allegedly "unfinished," but the structure seems coherent, after the editor did a fine job of stitching the narrative together.

    At least two Nitletters have mentioned the author recently, one to say that he hates the author's works in general and the other to say that he was unable to finish this specific novel. (The theme does not primarily examine adolescence.)

    The quoted passage appears on page 417.

  8. #8
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I assume the send novel might be "The Pale King" by David Foster Wallace (although I've never read it, or any of Wallace's other novels).

    I like the story. Ivan doesn't command much sympathy, though. I mean, he's a snooty bastard, and he kicks some kid's head in with no warning. I suppose he might have a sense of humor, as that ending grin suggests.

    ONe other thing: Ivan talks like the narrator. I don't know if this is intentional or not. This almost reads like the first chapter of a longer piece, with more to come. Encore!

    Have you ever seen the movie SLC Punk? It's one of the funniest low-budget indie films around (it was probably made in Salt Lake City, of all places, during the punk era, 20+ years ago). The hero hates "posers". At the end, he thinks: "That's when it came to me. I was the poser." For some reason your story reminded me of that line.

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    Auntie, I was browsing through this forum a bit because I'd just posted my own first short story. I knew you were experienced with writing and I was curious to see a story of yours. I'll say I was amazed, it's absolutely brilliant. Your descriptive style of writing makes it wonderful to read, and your vocabulary is incredible; I could have learned about twenty words just from this story had I looked them up, but I did not want to interrupt my reading of it. Though I will definitely reread it sometime.

    Captivating from start to end, although I must say that the ending strikes me as unsual as well in that I did not understand what he was smiling about. I'm trying to grasp the point, also with the help of your reply, but I fail to see it. I completely understand that he can be his true self only in the confines of his room, but it strikes me as odd because there is no indication as to what is making him smile. I feel like the reader could have been given a little push there, a little more to go on so that it would be easier to fill in for ourselves.

    That being said, it was an incredible read and it inspires me to try and see if I can't write more in the future as well.

    EDIT: on a sidenote, I love the title. It fits perfectly with the story and its message. Very nice!
    Last edited by EvoWarrior5; 07-30-2014 at 08:52 PM.
    Without any form of punctuation, our language would not say "I'm perfect"; it would say "imperfect".

    "Access to works of art cannot be defined solely in terms of physical accessibility, since works of art exist only for those who have the means of understanding them."

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    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    No more calls. We have a winner! It was indeed, "The Pale King." Congrats, ecurb! I don't know if you'd like that novel, but some day when you're feeling strenuous, you might give "Infinite Jest" a try. I like your sense of humor, so I think you'll enjoy the essays in "Consider the Lobster, " some of which are pretty funny.

    Thanks for your comments, too. Yes, the narrator sounds like Ivan, which is more or less intentional. I agree he is a pain in the you know what, but there are extenuating circumstances, such as the less-than-optimal homelife.For the record, he didn't deck the guy without warning. The kid shoved him first.

    And EvoWarrior5, your comments are too flattering. To answer the question: "Why is this man smiling?" I think the reason is he's finally in control (such as it is) of his feelings, and at that moment feels free enough to grin. Nobody's watching. BTW, have you ever had an unexplained feeling? Sometimes emotions float in uninvited.

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    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    You know the effortless reading of this piece that takes so much effort to write, was wonderful. I really enjoyed the authenticity of characters and place. It was an absolute pleasure to read. My favorite so far. You know the subject matter inside-out.

  12. #12
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    It is, perhaps, unfair of you, Auntshecky, to complain about my interpretation that Ivan decked a kid with no warning when, in your own story, you wrote, "Without warning, he turned back around with his body contorted into an unusual posture. A parsec later he executed an exotic move and decked the kid."

    The kid pushed Ivan, Ivan pretended to walk away, and when the kid dropped his guard Ivan spun around and decked him. I like the story a lot -- but I think the scene in the cafeteria seems a little forced. First, I think girls like being asked to the Prom, even if its only a week ahead of the event (and they already have another date). Of course if the scene is in public, the girl may be tempted by peer pressure to act disdainfully. But it still seemed forced to me.

    The insult, "Creep", seems old fashioned -- like something out of the '50s or '60s. In addition, the fight seems a bit too pat, like an intellectual nerd's (Ivan's) fantasy. Ivan's "knowledge" (learned in tae kwan doe "classes") allows him to best some muscle-bound bully (albeit using despicable subterfuge). I'll grant that Ivan might say, "Those tae kwon doe lessons paid off." But only because he probably planned using the line in advance, if he ever got into a fight (he's the tpye that would). Maybe you were trying to engender the mood and the response I describe in your readers, though.

    Again -- it's a good story. I don't want to sound negative -- just to offer helpful comments.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    It is, perhaps, unfair of you, Auntshecky, to complain about my interpretation that Ivan decked a kid with no warning when, in your own story, you wrote, "Without warning, he turned back around with his body contorted into an unusual posture. A parsec later he executed an exotic move and decked the kid."
    To quote Rick Perry: "Oops!" Good catch, though.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 08-02-2014 at 04:37 PM.

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