Sweet Gogarty by Matthew Hochberg. December Press, 4343 Clarenden Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60613. (111 pages, $4.00).
How many novels have you read lately that challenge stereotypes, while giving you characters you can love and hate, with a plot and an ending that satisfy both your sense of what must happen and what you wish would happen?
If the answer is none, I recommend Sweet Gogarty, a light-hearted story you will never forget because, while you are laughing, it is carving its lessons upon your heart.
As so little best-seller fiction does these days, this novel lifts us up above the broiling mess of our contemporary culture (while coping with its tensions and realities: race, politics, marriage, family) to a vision of the happiness that has always been ours, and can still be.
Gogarty is a Chicago cop, assigned to rid his precinct of two major threats to its order: a rising Nazi and a racist black leader. Then there’s the woman Charlie, who loves Gogarty. She’s competent with a gun (being a policeman’s daughter, that’s understandable) and does what the psychologist nowadays tell us we must do: asks for what she wants. She asks Gogarty and he resists, certain it can’t be right since she’s his friend’s daughter, and he’s obsessed by a convictioned he’s going to be crucified.
He does his duty, and with all the wiliness of an Odysseus outwits his enemies without betraying himself, his friends, or the people in his community, whose sufferings he feels as his own.
And Charlie, his determined seducer, also does hers, defying all the melodramatic endings one could have imagined and giving us a new twist that is whimsical where our cultural expectations are concerned and yet right, exactly right. Not the usual vision of a Penelope, sitting quietly at home, waiting for all the wars, including the one with the suitors to be over, this heroine enters the fray, and saves and earns Gogarty’s love.
“That’s a handsome green cap you’re wearing,” he said.
“It cost me only 79 cents. I fight cruel happenings when I wear this cap.”
“How do you do that, Charlie?”
“I wear it when I teach my children in the kindergarten. I walk around them while they’re playing and it protects them from sickness and accidents.”
Suddenly without warning he thought of himself hanging mutilated from his cross. He moaned.
“What’s the matter?” she asked him, concerned.
“They’ll nail me to a cross for what I’ve done and I’ll be high above you. I’ll look down at you and your pretty face will be horrible to me.”
“No sir,” said Charlie emphatically. “You never did evil — evil was done to you.”
“What evil was done to me?”
“Your fat wife and your vicious son. All the years you had to live with them. The prison they made out of your life. You had a right to someone as fine as you are; a wife to rest against, a good boy who was proud of you and kissed your cheek.”
He looked at her and horror faded and became the sweet perfume that Charlie was wearing.
“Do you feel better now?” she asked him.
“Yes. You helped me. Why were you able to help me, Charlie?”
“I can help you because I’m what God sent you to reward you for suffering a fat wife and a bad son.”
“How very peculiar that would be: Charlie on her bicycle, a gift from God.”
“God is peculiar; he tells jokes.”
If you want to know what it is like to die drunk — or all the ways it is possible to die: morally, emotionally, physically — this is the book to read. It’s about the kind of death we fight and yet carry, the loneliness carried deeper and deeper into ourselves, where there is no one to hear.
This is hell from the inside. In Anaconda, Jerry Bumpus has given me whole, so I could live it, feel it, be it, the death of an old drunk — one who had meant his life to be different but chased an illusion of freedom in such a way that he lost himself.
“Fear was the only thing that kept him from succumbing to the lethargy of semi-consciousness. He was at the point where death was no longer a great separate abstract entity; it was now a subtle part of his consciousness or lack of consciousness. Because he knew this, he became afraid of passing out or falling asleep; but yet he was so weak and had so little control of his consciousness that he balanced on the very edge of falling into a stupor. That would be his death. The thought that he was prolonging his act, dragging out his death to his own torture, did not enter his mind. He would struggle to live as long as he could. The old urge for self-destruction that had directed at least half of the actions of his life, driving him to drinking, causing him to torment himself and the people near him, forcing him to destroy the happiness that he knew was happiness because he felt some demonic need for unhappiness, the old urge for self-destruction was gone. It was as if now, having achieved what he wanted all his life — his destruction — no longer wanted it. The essence of his person — his soul or whatever it is — knew that now at the edge of all happiness and unhappiness he had not wanted this at all, that his end and the end of all things for him was not the goal of his life after all.”
Anaconda by Jerry Bumpus, December Press, 4343 N. Clarendon Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60613 (153 pages, $6.00)