Sunday, April 26, 2009

The house

You will recall (for so have I commanded) that last week one of my posts referenced the next great American novel, or something very much like it. Well, here it is. As the Magratheans would have it, "We are not proud".
-----
Chapter One:

I was helping my father, the Rabbi, put his sefarim on the bookshelf when the blue minivan pulled up in the driveway for the first time. My father was tall, with a long, black beard, hints if orange in odd places, and prematurely graying hair. I was seven years old, the firstborn, a regular-looking boy, with my mother's eyes and my father's nose.

The doorbell rang, and my father, embarrassed as always, let my mother answer it. She walked into the living room from the kitchen with a slight frown on her face. "Oh, thank you," she said, "how very kind." It was a homemade apple pie, presented by a woman, a year or two older than my mother. My mother didn't yet know how to say that she couldn't take the pie, it wasn't kosher, her family only ate kosher-thoughts tumbled through her head, and she raced to respond appropriately.

"My name is Mrs. Simons," said the woman at the door, "welcome to the neighborhood." My mother didn't yet even know how to respond to this midwestern friendliness, and she hadn't even had time to think of something to do with the pie resting in her hands. Helplessly, she invited Mrs. Simons into the house, directing her past my father and I putting books on the shelves and into the kitchen.

My mother put the pie down and offered her guest a drink. "I'm sorry we only have water and iced tea," my mother said, taking a jug out of the nearly empty fridge, "we've only just moved in." Mrs. Simons replied, "That's no problem."

I heard this exchange from the living room and wondered if I should get a glass of iced tea myself. My father had stopped putting sefarim on the shelves because he had found one that was interesting. Later that night he would read it aloud to us around the dinner table, translating the Hebrew words into English for my mother. In any case she was too preoccupied with my younger siblings to pay much attention to what my father was reading. I would listen though, not understanding everything, but feeling a bit of the awe my father felt for the words contained in the book. This was no ordinary book, it was a transcription of a farbrengen, words written down by wise men, guided by the divine and the expectations of the many.

Years later, when I too could read these farbrengens, I felt a bit of the awe my father felt. But it would never be the same. He had been by the Rebbe when these words had been spoken; actually, I had also been there sometimes, but I was too young to remember anything that had been said.

When I was in high school, writing short stories for my own enjoyment, I never wrote of the Rebbe or his farbrengens. They were holy, above fiction. There were so many stories told about him, and they all professed to be true. No one was brave enough to mention him, even in passing, without at least claiming to be true. Of course, not all the stories could be true-only a fool would believe them all, but at the same time, they could have happened.

To put this man of truth in fiction, a lie? To knowingly say or write that he did what he did not? Leave that for historians, who neither know nor care. For us the pain was too great, the knowledge too dear.

My stories instead featured a boy named Joshua who challenged all the belief's his author held. I didn't realize it at the time, but the stories were cries for what I could not allow myself to have. I wrote of a youth in turns cynical, sarcastic, and above all humorous; I strived for all three, but only managed to produce what I was, a confused mess of ideas, tangled beliefs, and teenage humor.

Laughing at jokes I could not comprehend and making light of elders who comprehended too much. Pretension I hated above all, yet no matter how hard I fought to keep it out of my stories it came through in great chunks, with little spaces in between for my laugh at society and its moors.

[the end]

26 comments:

le7 said...

Interesting... this is a novel?

The Real Shliach said...

It was going to be, but I quit. I have another five of these starter novels lying around in various places.

sarabonne said...

Reminds me of Chaim Potok, you've read his work?

Leo de Toot said...

dear Mr. R.S.
Waiting for chapter 2 ... L d T.

Modeh B said...

This reminds me of Chaim Potok minus the antisemitic crap. Of course since it's only the first chapter there is no theme or plot either.

The Real Shliach said...

Sara: not that I recall.

LdT: do I get a publisher's advance?

Modeh: the basic plot is that the frum kid fries out and the frie kid (yet to be introduced-simons) fries in.

Anonymous said...

like it i thought it was your memories-- is it fiction?
anyway i think the last word should be mores.
You need to really go off track to captivate us.
Two points : why didnt you get any lemonade that disturbs me. Second, when will we begin using the Rebbe in fiction because I think we will be rewarded in doing so.

sarabonne said...

If someone fries out, it's definitely a Potok.

The Real Shliach said...

Anon: The circumstances aren't true, but most of the feelings are. Let's call it "emotionally autobiographical".

And you are correct are mores vs. moors. It's difficult to proofread on an iPod.

Who said I didn't get any lemonade? Come to think of it, I could do with some lemonade right now.

Rewarded? How so? Using the rebbe in fiction, as in making him the inspiration for something, is one thing, but to have things happen which never happened? That's would be bad.

Sara: you mean, it's in the style of Potok. And hey, lo yidach memenu nidach.

e said...

yep, the writing style certainly is not the TRS we know. I suppose it is kind of Potokish. Two of his most famous characters (Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter) are sons of big hot shots, like the character in this story.

Trs, thanks for posting this! Maybe you'll post one of your other starter novels? Maybe you should finish them? They could be the English equivalent of "Neshama Im Atzma" (published by Kehot a bunch of years ago), just with a non-caricature characters.

sarabonne said...

Yes, I had The Chosen in mind when I read it.
You should work on finishing some of these.

The Real Shliach said...

e: maybe. Maybe. I get bored after a while. The best so far was one that's actually reminiscent of a certain cheery person we all know...scary but true, I wrote the outline and first chapters four or five years ago.

e said...

which cheery person? I know not of whom you speak.

The Real Shliach said...

someone who is very "hip".

e said...

hhhhmmm. That cheery individual writes like this? I've never read any of her fiction, but this seems way too somber for her. Chaim Potok is a somber writer.

e said...

oh duh. This is reminiscent of her. Your "best" is. Well post it!!

e said...

please

The Real Shliach said...

A. It's in my notebook.
B. That notebook is in my bedroom.
C. That bedroom is in Minnesota.

e said...

if your mom can fax it to me, I can send it to you as a pdf.

The Real Shliach said...

That would necessitate her reading my notebook...not happening. Just remind me when I go home again, and I'll dig it up.

Modeh B'Miktsas said...

Why? Which side of the world are you on this week?

The Real Shliach said...

I'm in the other ir hakodesh in new jersey.

therapydoc said...

You're a wonderful writer.

The Real Shliach said...

oh! Um, (blushes) thanks.

Modeh B'Miktsas said...

Oh. Fakewood ihr hakodeish. B'zchut hei iyar you should be nigal from there quickly.

The Real Shliach said...

Huh? No! I've never been there in my life! I'm in Morristown struggling to understand blood stained garments (sfek sfeikah).