17 February 2012

Heart & Soul: Another Gem from Adam Gopnik

Having so thoroughly enjoyed The King in the Window, I went searching for other children's books by Adam Gopnik, and happily discovered The Steps Across the Water (2010). Another delight! We're nearing the end of the book at this point, but here's an excellent excerpt from early on (chapter two):

"'Excited for your big day at school today, Partly?' her father asked {Rose} as he walked her to school. He liked calling her 'Partly' because one of her classmates was named 'Stormy.' It had been raining the night her friend was born, and her parents had wanted to remember that fact. 'If we had followed the same principle,' Rose's father liked to say, 'then you might have been called something like "Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Showers." And just "Partly" for short.'

"Of course, Rose knew that her father didn't really know what the weather had been like the night she was born {since she was adopted}, and that he was trying to make her feel more 'normal' by pretending that he did. It was also true that the kids in her class often had odd names. There was Stormy and Summer-Song, even a boy named Angle.

"'Dad . . .' Rose said.

"'What?' her father asked.

"'You know.'

"'No, sweetie. I'm not sure I follow.'

"'I hate school,' Rose said.

"Rose, of course, didn't really hate her school, but sometimes she could only get her parents' attention by exaggerating her emotions.

"'How can you hate school? You do so many wonderful things there. Don't you enjoy doing interpretive dances of Orpheus and Eurydice to the music of John Coltrane?' he asked. That's what they did in school when they weren't going to the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State Building and writing poems about them.

"'I just do,' Rose said. 'I hate it. I think all the other kids hate me.'

"'Nobody could hate you. Just as you don't hate them,' her father objected. 'You just don't love them. Sometimes you just have to struggle with people you're supposed to love but don't really like. That's part of life.'

"'Fine. But I hate it.'

"The truth, though, was that Rose didn't really hate her school, and especially not her teacher, Ms. Elizabeth Elder. She thought she was actually quite interesting when she talked about Greek myths, and even nice at times, when she talked about the history of jazz.

"'She's cold,' Rose insisted.

"'Well, maybe Ms. Elder doesn't have warmth, but does she have heart?'

"'What's the difference?'

"'Someone with warmth shows their affection. Someone with heart appreciates life, but doesn't always show it. You know what's more important than heart or warmth?'


"'Soul. Someone with soul. And do you know what's more important than soul?'

"'What, Dad?'

"'Money,' he answered moodily. 'Which we don't got, Rosebud. But which do you really think is most important?'

"Rose sensed that her father was exaggerating his emotions in the same way that she exaggerated hers. They both used the morning walk as an opportunity to vent their feelings in the gloomiest possible way. It was sort of understood between them. So now she made a little joke to let her father know that she knew that he was joking.

"'The ones with the fewest syllables,' she said.

"He laughed. 'Good answer. Look at the mannequin in the window! She's bursting her gussets.'

"Every morning they walked by a clothes store with one very large mannequin in the window.

"'Hey, kiddo,' her father said quickly, and Rose knew that he was thinking about what her mother would say. 'I don't want you to get the impression that it's important for women to be thin. You know — whatever weight . . .'

"'Dad. I know,' Rose said. She could sometimes say her dad's name the way that {her big brother} Oliver said hers. It was funny, she thought — the thing about someone being in the same family was that you knew when they were sort of joking, when they were sort of serious, when they were truly serious, and when they said one thing but were thinking of something else — the way that her father must have been thinking of her mother when he said that thing about women being fat.

"'You know, Dad,' she said, trying to express this as best she could, 'it's actually sort of appropriate that you would call me "Partly," because we each partly understand all of what the other one is thinking.'

"Her father actually stopped walking when she said that, and took her by the hand and said quietly, in that goopy way grown-ups often have, 'Rosie! I'll think about that all day. Or part of it, at least.'"
(The Steps Across the Water, 23-27).

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