Abraham Rothberg  - Author


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New by Abraham Rothberg:
Coming To Terms

$17.96 Printed: 392 pages, 6.0 x 9.0 in.,

This is by no means the saddest story I have ever heard, nor for that matter is it the happiest, but then happy marriages have never seemed any more alike to me than unhappy ones; and not until I had known Dominique Lo Bianco more than seven years, by which time she had for quite a while been Socrates Livadis’ wife and borne him a son, did I have an inkling of how unhappy they were. Bishop Berkeley was right. Kick any stone! It doesn’t matter. It’s all in our minds and kicking stones does no more than mash up your toes and scuff your shoe leather; it proves nothing except how misleading are our notions of what is real. Not that I consider myself an authority on reality, but over the almost six decades of my life, I have observed enough about human life to persuade me that as a species we don’t see stones or rocks for the obstacles a commonsensical mind might take them to be. Look at all those agglomerations of stones human beings have piled up over history! Pyramids and pyres, tombs and towers, all those monuments to human pride and power, to greed, and yes, just plain can-do orneriness. Very likely that goes a way towards explaining the kind of weakness which has afflicted me from boyhood, a sort of flawed vision which accounts for my admiration for that scrofulous old Englishman whose dumb answer to the Bishop was to kick a stone, and my inordinate uneasiness with that brilliant Irish cleric who held that no matter existed independently of perception — esse est percipii — that all qualities were known only to the mind; and, moreover, God was always comfortably out there keeping our world sensible so we could perceive not only the world’s continuing material existence but behold it in a coherent and orderly fashion. In heaven’s name, as one of the Bishop’s subsequent scientific (and Jewish) inheritors would ask, would God ever considering shooting dice with the universe? No, He would not! Though of course who can tell these days who is a member of Gamblers Anonymous? Hail to thee, blithe Bishop of Cloyne, certain as you were that once and for all you had given the lie to the likes of us weaker mortals who did not blindly believe and, consequently, fell afoul of godlessness.

All that is exactly the sort of talking and writing that would send Willy Devlin up the wall. Not that he was confounded by it, only he had no patience with such abstractions; besides, he didn’t want anyone to imagine that he might understand them, perhaps didn’t even care to acknowledge to himself that he did. Such language and anecdote Willy would have taken to be showing off, putting the Man on or putting on the dog, whatever, and Willy would have growled, “Why don’t you cut the bullshit, Matthew? All those fancy words, those recondite — see, I know fancy words too! — Latin quotes. Get down to it! Tell me like a regular dude what’s bugging you.”

Bugging me? How to speak of being permanently bereft of belief, of falling away from God, to Willy Devlin in a way that that he would feel comfortable enough to acknowledge? One way might have been to tell him that it was like never again having a chance to toke up on Acapulco Gold, but as you can see, and so too would Willy. that was both a condescension and reductivism. Yet for all that put-on, Willy was raised a Roman Catholic, as was Dominique Lo Bianco, strictly, parochially, devoutly, and probably each of them could still recite all of the Nicene Creed. If none of that seemed to have taught Willy what being denied God’s presence meant, Viet Nam surely had.

Oh, I forgot to mention that my name is Matthew Millard, senior professor of literature at St. Bernard’s College here in Upstate New York, sometime department chairman, erstwhile businessman, journalist, fiction writer and former passionate devotee of the arts. All those references you will note are to the past, which is no accident; it tells you plainly that I am what I am: A has-been. Willy Devlin sniffed that out quickly enough — he was nothing if not streetwise shrewd in such matters — but he was kind enough never to make a point of it. At least not to me. Though confused about success and failure — and who in America isn’t? — it was a subject with which Willy Devlin was obsessed, though I doubt he’d have appeared that way to a cursory glance, including his own, or that Willy would have confessed it even to his closest friend, if he was aware that it troubled him. Nam and the Marines had done that for him too, given him what one might rightly call an essentialist view of success: Success meant having a safe place to sack out, keeping your feet dry enough to avoid trench foot, eating three meals and drinking a six-pack a day, and, if you were lucky, blowing enough good smoke to forget where you were, what you were doing there, and how lonely and scared you were — even if you had never heard a shot fired in anger.

Once, before I understood what a ninny Blake was for believing that “We have Art that we may not perish from Truth,” I used to believe that Art — with a capital A of course — would bring us wisdom, solace, serenity in the face of tragedy, but in due course I learned better. Such learning took me the largest part of a lifetime to acquire, but it is another story, for which I shall not pause here, except suffice it to say that it is also a part of this story to be ignored at one’s peril.

It was as a consequence of the arts that I first met Dominique Lo Bianco and much later Willy Devlin. Willy Devlin was never William to anyone, though that was his given name. If much later I was half-affectionately, half-sardonically to call him Sir William, the Knight of the Grail, he allowed me that only in deference to my age and then uneasily, and if on occasion I changed that name to Don Guillermo to commemorate the Knight of the Windmills, I do not believe he took it amiss, although now that it’s all over, who’s to say that such minor matters were not more important to him by far than they were to me? In any event, I met Dominique Lo Bianco when she had just turned twenty, a junior at St. Bernard’s enrolling in the first creative writing workshop I taught there. It was not a course I was eager to offer, but the powers-that-be thought it might give the school a bit of cachet, and how eagerly the school was in search of whatever small distinctions it could unearth. Given the caliber of the school, I thought few enough would be interested in the course and that those who were would not probably be able to write a simple declarative sentence. I was quite right about that, but in addition there were a dozen students who wrote relatively fluently, a handful of whom had some talent: The most gifted of these was Dominique Lo Bianco.

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