BOOK DETAILS

The Great Pretender: Confessions of a Semi-Incorrigible Southern Catholic Boy

The Great Pretender: Confessions of a Semi-Incorrigible Southern Catholic Boy

by Robert R Randall

ASIN: B01CUGQ942

Publisher Robert R Randall

Published in Literature & Fiction/Coming of Age, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

FREEstyle> Will young Johnny Malloy find answers to his most perplexing questions--why is he here; why won't his girlfriend have sex with him--and learn to stay out of trouble, or will he remain a hopeless delinquent? Johnny feels detached and different, but pretends—sometimes sadly, sometimes hilariously--to be like everyone else. Add a judgmental priest, a controlling mother, and a frustrating girlfriend, and his challenges grow exponentially. In The Great Pretender, a coming of age novel set in the mid-twentieth century, a precocious adolescent meets these trials with courage, defiance and humor.

Sample Chapter

Sound and Fury

It was sometime in 1942 that I discovered I was different. In what way, exactly, I could not have said, but the feeling itself was painfully clear: like a child left behind by aliens that my parents mistook for their own.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this epiphany occurred just after I discovered other people. Awakening abruptly, I found myself in the midst of a garrulous gathering of folks in a place called Meridian, Mississippi. Quickly, my four-year-old eyes discerned that these people were nothing like me at all. And yet, they were “family,” mama said, and indeed, they all seemed to live in my home.

As it turned out, there were actually only six of us (my mother, father, sister grandmother, Uncle Henry and I) who slept and ate in our house every day. The rest of these characters—a deep south gumbo of uncles, aunts, cousins, step-siblings, ex-spouses, friends and a handful of undetermined status—were present, less often, individually, perhaps, but collectively, almost around the clock.

By ones and twos, this curious throng arrived and departed continuously— especially on weekends. They came, they hugged, they talked, they laughed, they wept, they ate and/or drank and then left—only, in many cases, to come back and do it all over again. They might stay ten minutes or stay the night. A stranger observing our home that year might have guessed he was witnessing a family reunion or a wake—one that curiously never ended.

If all that seems odd, consider still another strange aspect of this intriguing pageant: most of these people parading in and out of our home wore fascinating uniforms. Here was Uncle Ralph in khaki and brown, an outfit resplendent with brass insignia and impressive, multicolored ribbons. There was Uncle JD in his spiffy, starched whites, blue kerchief tie and perky, immaculate white cap. And look, here was Uncle Fred in my favorite—a blue, red and white costume as dazzling as a Christmas Nutcracker. Not to be outdone, even Aunt Maude wore a grey uniform trimmed in red, signifying, she would inform me later, her position with the American Red Cross.

The old Malloy home (it had been my father’s parents’ home before it was ours) resounded with an extraordinary vitality. At the time, however, I assumed this intensity was typical of human behavior, and I could not have been more delighted. After all, I received lots of attention. Our manic visitors would invariably hug me or tousle my head and rave about how much I had grown—even if they‘d just seen me the day before. Then they might give me a peppermint or a stick of Juicy Fruit, or maybe even a nickel (indeed, those who’d had a nip or two might even spring for a quarter). And because they were all “company,” (not to mention “family”) mama usually had snacks on the dining room table—nuts, candy, chips and dips, or even those little sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

Like the movies of that era, scenes in our home were often accompanied by 1940s music—especially the big band variety. We didn’t have a record player, but who needed one when we had radio? Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman and the Andrews Sisters set the mood for my early life story—and for plenty of dancing, too.

And oh, how my mama loved to dance. For “Babs,” dancing was right up there with silk stockings, Chanel Number Five and black walnut ice cream. Give her a shot of Early Times bourbon on a Saturday night, and she was transformed into Ginger Rogers. Never mind if no one else was dancing, mama was going to ‘cut a rug’—even if she had to do it alone. Sometimes she could lure my introverted father onto the floor, sometimes not. If it wasn’t past my bedtime, she was just as delighted to dance with me. Charleston, jitterbug, tango, waltz—she was good at them all, and eventually, I would be, too. In the meantime, I was thrilled to dance with her.

But dancing was not the main attraction at our house in that magical time. Nor even all that great music. No, our family’s favorite pastime in 1942 was lively conversation, especially around our big kitchen table. Take any Friday or Saturday night, add a half dozen relatives or friends and bottle of cheap bourbon whiskey, and the old Malloy home came alive. Raucous laughter, maudlin tears, passionate arguments—in the dark of my adjacent room I heard them all and was secretly enchanted. Now and then, mama or one of my “aunts” or “uncles” would come in to check on me, and I would pretend to be asleep. How lucky I was to have this family, I thought. Weren’t these people simply the grandest? I could not wait to grow up and be just like them.

Meanwhile, I knew I wasn’t like them at all. They seemed to share some secret wisdom that no one had bothered to reveal to me. They knew—well, how to be in the world, and I did not. But, wait—maybe they’d never find out. Perhaps I could pay close attention, learn to mimic their behavior and pretend to be one of them.

Little by little, I came to comprehend what all the excitement was about: everyone was overwrought because our country was “at war.” We were fighting the “Japs” and the “Krauts” in a place called “Oversees.” These bad guys had done some terrible things, and we were mad as hell about it. Mad enough, in fact, that most of the men could hardly wait to join the fight against them. My uncles Fred, JD and Ralph, as we have seen, were already in uniform, and my father (“Babe”) and Uncle Henry would have been, too, if only they had been able.

Daddy and Uncle Henry were both turned down by the armed services, because they were something called “fore-eff.” Later I would learn that—at forty-plus—they were both simply too old for war, not to mention that neither had very good eyesight (in fact, the lenses in Uncle Henry’s glasses looked as thick as the bottoms of “CoCola” bottles). On top of all that, my father had a family to support—mama, me and my baby sister, Ida Rose.

Still, the Malloys were well represented in the war, and not only on my father’s side. My mother’s younger brother (my Uncle), Barry had also joined up, much to her conflicting anxiety and pride (he was, in her eyes, still a baby), and was presently in flight school in the Army Air Corps.

It is difficult to convey the palpable omnipresence of the phenomenon that was World War II. From the beginning (or at least my awakening), the war touched every aspect of our lives. When my parents were not congregating with friends and family to talk about the war—family members serving, troop deployments, battles, victories, losses, injuries and deaths—they were gathering around the Philco console radio in the living room to hear Edward R. Murrow or Robert Trout tell us how the conflict was going.

If people chanced to forget about the war for a moment, there was always something to yank them back into its all-consuming reality. Everywhere in Meridian, it seemed, there were signs and posters (“Uncle Sam Needs You” or “Buy U.S. War Bonds”). Shoppers complained about the shortage of ration stamps they needed to buy groceries and gasoline. Scrap metal drives to help the war effort were always in progress. And the newsreels at the movies (indeed, many of the movies, themselves) were almost entirely about the war.

SOMETIMES THE WAR HIT CLOSE TO HOME

In the front windows of neighborhood homes, there were stars representing each family’s involvement in the war: a White or Silver star meant a family member was serving in the armed services; a Gold star signified that a family member had been killed in the war. There was nothing sadder than noticing that a White star had been replaced by a Gold one.

Mrs. Morton, one of our next-door neighbors, had two Silver stars in her front window—one for her husband, Pete, another for their son, Pete Jr., whom we all knew as Sonny. Most days, she, like half the neighborhood, was waiting by her mailbox when the mailman arrived, hoping for a letter from a loved one. Very often, my mama or daddy would wave to Mrs. Morton and ask if she’d heard from Pete or Sonny. Most days, she’d just wave back and say, “nothing today.” If she did get a letter, she might open and read it right on the spot, then walk over and share some of it with them.

It was all a mystery to me. What was the big deal with these letters? Why were they so important? Mr. Morton and Sonny had only been gone a couple of months. I mean, I really liked Sonny a lot (sometimes he played catch with me), but I wasn’t worried about him. If anything, I was envious. In my eyes, he was a hero—like Captain Marvel or the Green Hornet, except that I knew him personally.

It was Claude Junior (in Mississippi, Claw-joonya) Hobbs, a kid from down the street, who fractured my innocence and provided one of my earliest epiphanies.

“You hear about Sonny?” He was half out of breath, apparently having run all the way from his home to our front yard.

“Sonny next door?” I said, perplexed. Of course I knew about Sonny. He was somewhere Oversees fighting Japs.

“Yeah, Sonny,” Claude Jr. said, as if there were no other Sonnys on the planet, “he’s dead.”

“No, he’s not,” I said, “he’s Oversees.” Stupid ClaudeJunior. Thinks if he hasn’t seen someone for awhile, they must be dead.

“Yeah, I know,” he said, wiping his sleeve across a runny nose, “But now, he’s dead. He got hisself killed over there.”

“Did not,” I protested, unable to grasp what he seemed to be saying.

“Did too, I heard my mama tellin’ somebody on the phone.”

“Well, she’s wrong,” I said, sacrilegiously. Parents were never wrong, were they?

I turned and ran—up the steps and into the house. When I got to my room, my heart was pounding, and I thought I might cry. I pictured Sonny just before he left to go Oversees. In his new starched khaki uniform and his funny looking hat, he had looked older and somehow wiser than his 18 years. In fact, he had looked like a different person.

“What kind of hat is that?” I asked. He was sitting on a lawn chair in the Morton’s back yard, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. From a radio on the back porch, a big band was playing “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.”

“S’called a cunt cap,” Sonny said lazily, exhaling a cloud of smoke.

“A cunt cap? Why do they call it that?

“Because it looks like…well, that’s another story.”

“What story is that?”

“A story,” he chuckled, “for another time.”

He had seemed wistful that day before his departure. Not sad, maybe, but reflective, a lot quieter that the Sonny I knew.

“Wanna play catch, Sonny?”

“Don’t have time right now, little buddy,” he said, with an exaggerated wink, “got a hot date.”

He meant Mary Lou Caskey, the pretty red-haired girl who had been his sweetheart forever. He had even given her his graduation ring to wear around her neck while he was gone.

“But you’re leaving tomorrow, right?”

“That I am, Johnny boy.” He chugged a last swallow, got up to leave and gave my arm a squeeze. “But we’ll do it again soon as I get back.”

“When do you think you’ll come back,” I said, as he headed inside.

“Soon as I can,” he said, turning back. “See you in the movies, kiddo.”

That was the last time I saw him. He had left early the next morning. Next thing we heard he was some place in the Pacific. That’s all anyone knew—even Mrs. Morton.

And now, he was dead? Catch-playing, hair-combing, fag-smoking, finger-snapping, ukulele-playing Sonny Morton was dead? Was no longer breathing? Would never be back? I could not get my head around it.

But wait. Maybe we wasn’t dead. What if Claude Jr. was wrong? What if he had not heard what he thought he heard? That was it—it was all a big mistake. I bolted from my room, ran down the hall and found my mother in the kitchen.

“Is Sonny dead?” I blurted.

Her pained expression gave it away before she uttered a word. And now I could not stop the tears. “No, no,” I said over and over, and she held me for a long time.

Continues...

Excerpted from "The Great Pretender: Confessions of a Semi-Incorrigible Southern Catholic Boy" by Robert R Randall. Copyright © 2016 by Robert R Randall. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Robert R Randall

Robert R Randall

A former itinerant radio and TV personality, Robert R Randall is a graduate of Lamar University and has an M.S. in mass communications from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. He is the author of The Morning Man, The Great Pretender, Confessions of a Semi-Incorrigible Southern Catholic Boy and The Healing Power of Connection. He lives in San Antonio.

View full Profile of Robert R Randall

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