I had an unpleasant childhood.
I’m quite sure that anyone who has read The Book of Paul has already come to that not-so-startling conclusion. As William, the narrator, states in the chapter Sob Story:
“Everybody wants the back story. Everyone wants to know how people “got that way.” Personally, I don’t think explanations help very much. They certainly didn’t help with me. I went to therapy for years, digging up all the worms and green goop that were supposed to free me from my demons. The results were less than liberating. I’m not saying I had it worse than Martin, but it was quite horrible in its own way…in its own special way. I won’t go into it now; you’ve already been through enough. Let’s just say it was bad. Take my word for it.”
I write fiction. Mostly. William isn’t “me” any more than Paul, Martin or Rose.The Book of Paul is not a memoir. I’m not likely to ever write one. I loathed writing my author bio, what little there is of it. I’ll pay a publicist to do it at some point. I don’t enjoy the spotlight. I don’t enjoy doing readings. I suppose this is the way I’ll gradually fill out the cursed About Me section of this website/blog.
“I” like to poke my head out in other, more oblique, ways. One of my favorite short non-action chapters is called Pseudonym, which opens the second half of the book:
“I am William’s soul. I am writing this Book from a place you can’t imagine. I found this story rendered whole, complete. It was there before I started.
I dole it out in drips and drabs. Sometimes he listens. Sometimes not. It doesn’t matter. It will all come out eventually. Unraveling, thread by thread.
I am the machine that makes his dreams. I make them fierce and thrilling. Sometimes I tell him things I wish I could take back again. I see the trouble they cause. I watch from my way, way far-off place. I see him try so hard to be good.
I keep talking and he keeps writing. I can’t stop it. He can’t stop it.
Even if I could…make it nicer…make it happy…make it safe…I still wouldn’t.
Because I have to tell you…I really like it this way.”
Creepy. Which is not to say I’m a creep. Or even creep-y. My first visit with an agent who enjoyed The Book of Paul, began with him saying, as we shook hands, “Oh my god…I can’t believe it. You’re…normal.”
Well, yes and no. I don’t have any ink or piercings. I don’t live in the East Village, where The Book of Paul is set. Very dark things happened when I lived there in the ‘80s and ‘90s — things I saw and did…places I went…events that inspired this book. Today I live in a very nice loft in a very nice neighborhood with my wonderful wife and two incredible children. Family means more to me than anything. I’m a good dad.
My parent’s never told me anything about my Irish heritage. The Book of Paul was my way of trying to make sense out of the way my parents behaved – or why they even bothered having children in the first place. One time when I asked my mother what her father was like, in an effort to understand where I “came from” and how “she got that way”, she immediately broke down, sobbing uncontrollably:
“He was…a…bastard!” she sputtered, immediately followed by father’s contribution to the conversation: “Gooddam it! Why are you upsetting your mother?”
So much for exploring my roots. The truth is, I know nothing of Ireland and the Irish people other than what I’ve read and how I saw most of older relatives behaving — which was typically cruel, cold and withholding – except for a few kind, loving, funny ones, mostly women, like my Aunt Norine, who was my salvation. In The Book of Paul, I created my own mythology to explain what I was never told. I do know this: my grandmother was born in County Clare. I have dual (duel?) citizenship. Yet, I haven’t been there. I will someday. I will go with my family. I will hope we don’t get stoned by my very distant relatives for the things I have written about The Church.
Today is Father’s Day. I will spend the day doing something fun and relaxing and joyous with my treasured family. Paul, the ultimate bad dad, would be absolutely appalled. My own father would be…well, who knows how he’d be feeling. He’s been dead a long time. Can’t say I miss him, but he is in my thoughts. ‘Nuff said.
Happy Father’s Day one and all!