Thursday, December 29, 2016
Old School. That's what this is, this book about a dysfunctional family that begins in 1957 and carries the reader through to the present day. I started this book in 1976. In '78 I made a splash by winning Best Short Story Award from Playboy Magazine. I signed with an agent and there was a lot of interest in this book. I had lunches with my editor in New York City. It was classic author-stuff, from another era. I had an opportunity but I wasn't ripe, the book wasn't ripe and I didn't finish it until 2014. I had to do some living before I could write the stories in this book.
I've drawn a lot of autobiographical material into this narrative. I was the kind of kid that Aaron Kantro is in these pages. I was still in grade school when I first heard jazz on a recording by Louis Armstrong. Can you imagine a twelve year old closeting himself in his bedroom and listening to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane? Can you imagine that today, or fifty years ago? This is a precocious lonely child. He doesn't fit in well with his class mates. He gets bullied but he doesn't cringe easily, doesn't give in.
Aaron's mother, Esther, is horrified. She regards any deviation from her plans as personal attacks. Her sons will become professionals. They will be doctors or lawyers. Her daughters will marry socially prominent men of wealth and have two or three grandchildren apiece. She gets, instead, a dreamy musician who listens to what is called, in Yiddish,"Scvhatze music". She is convinced that her oldest son will become a bum playing at Bar Mitzvahs and her younger son...well...he's crazy, he goes into trances and hurts people and then he can't remember what he's done. Esther's dreams are fueled by a pathological insecurity that develops into full-blown Manic Depression, today's bi-polar disorder. On top of her clinical disturbances, Esther is flat-out mean. She's sadistic and clever.
This is starting to sound a little depressing. I promise you, it's not. The book has darkness, of course. But it tracks the development of two creative children who get no support. They need determination and strength to follow their dreams. The other two children are interesting in their monstrousness, their violence and greed. By splitting the four children into two teams I've created a laboratory, showing the corrosive effects of parental abuse. The outcomes depend on the child's innate moral nature. Aaron and Sarah survive and become productive only through enormous courage and tenacity.
This is the Kantro family. A father, a mother and four kids. Two of the kids are sweet and two of them are monsters. Max knows that something is wrong in his family. It is the 60's and he has few tools available. He's trying, but it's hard to maneuver through the family's emotional problems. There's always trouble. Aaron may be experimenting with drugs. Somehow that's not so bad as Mark's propensity to collect weapons and lurk on the outskirts of thuggish mayhem. The world has yet to fill with more sophisticated knowledge. There are few books to be had about family dynamics. Eating disorders are unknown. When Sarah dives into Bulimia, she hasn't a clue, nor does anyone else, about this compulsive behavior. It's a total mystery and the only option is to put her in a mental hospital for a month or two.
In "Confessions Of An Honest Man" we travel the Hero's Journey with Aaron. He's brave enough to defy his mother. He goes to New York City at the fresh age of sixteen. He's searching for his jazz hero, the legendary Avian Coulter.
He finds Avian. The man is Avant Garde, a polarizing figure in the jazz world. He's also an addict. Avian takes Aaron under his broken wings and turns him in the direction he needs to go. He introduces Aaron to the successful blues n' bop saxophonist, Zoot Prestige. Aaron needs to play Black, Aaron needs to be in Chitlin' Circuit clubs in Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis. Avian trusts his friend Zoot more than he trusts himself. Zoot will watch over Aaron and keep him from getting into too much trouble. The gigs with the Zoot Prestige Trio are wonderfully goofy.
This is a fairly large book and it goes a lot of places. We meet Jimi Hendrix and we fight the Soviet Army with the Mujahiddin in the Eighties. Read the book. F'god's sake, it's $2.99. Then leave a review. Every author needs reviews. Thanks for being here.
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