April 2, 2012


By Victor Lodato
~6900 words

An obese man receives a visit from his father, whom he hasn't seen in over two years.

The story is narrated in the first person by the main character, Freddy, who lives in Tucson. His father is visiting from New Jersey, and the occasion is a source of great anxiety for Freddy. As a means of coping, he coaches himself through the strategies of Parallel Energetics—presumably the "P.E." of the title, although Freddy's obesity enables an ironic allusion to "physical education"—a New Age group whose core belief holds that "there are other versions of you and they're pretty much walking right next to you at all times."

A great strength of this story lies in the unique characterization of both Freddy and his father. Freddy's obesity, his belief in parallel selves, his close (perhaps intimate) relationship to his P.E. "mentor" Salvatore, and his hostility toward his father make him a prickly, complex character:
What I wanted to tell you is that extraordinary things have happened to me. Are happening to me. You wouldn't think this is something I could easily get off track about. But as Salvatore says, most of my blubber is around my eyes. Apparently, I'm still very angry. I'm always blown away when people tell me that. I mean, I know I'm impatient and irritable and occasionally judgmental, but I really do have a great deal of love in my heart. And not just for my other selves, but for people who have nothing to do with me. People who aren't me, I mean. Strangers. 
Through skillfully executed backstory, we learn one source of Freddy's anger: both his parents were junkies, and his mother hanged herself at least partially in response to the father's philandering. "I came home more than once," Freddy recalls, "to find him with a strung-out stranger with her pants down. He loved women, all makes, all models. Let's just say, my mother became depressed."

For his part the father, despite all his flaws, has apparently come to Tucson out of worry over Freddy:
     My father looked down and shook his head. "Helen said this, but I didn't want to believe her."
     "Said what?"
     "Come on, buddy, sit down. Whatever you need, I'm here to help you."
     "Help me?" The ha-ha in my throat was so big I started choking on it.
     "She thought I should check up on you. See how you're doing."
As might be feared, the family reunion does not go so well—despite a brief bonding as father and son share a stash of Freddy's marijuana—and the story ends with the father wiping tears from his eyes.

"P.E." has a lot going for it. The language is crisp, the characters are unique, and the messy combination of tenderness and dysfunction feels poignant and real. The story's weakness lies in the rather chaotic final scene, where things seem to go off in too many directions at once. Still, this is a strong TNY debut for Victor Lodato.

Satisfactory. Strong (modified 24 December 2012, explanation here).

No comments:

Post a Comment