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The Pact

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In the tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Pact explores the frustrations and joys of a boy as he learns the fallibility of adults and the subsequent loss of youthful innocence.
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The Pact

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In the tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Pact explores the frustrations and joys of a boy as he learns the fallibility of adults and the subsequent loss of youthful innocence.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In his powerfully evoked debut, Roers portrays the childhood experiences that shape the lives of two brothers, Michael and Ron Dougherty, and their friend Ricky Stedman, during the late 1940s in Minneapolis. The world Roers describes radiates with youthful innocence as the boys rush to buy "suicide cokes," build snow castles, attend free-dish night at the movies and "car hop," a form of water-skiing on ice. This complacent yet fragile state soon shatters, however, as Michael and Ron come to recognize the "fallibility and torment of adults"; their father has a drinking problem. Whereas Ron responds with anger and even plans a water-balloon raid on the local bar, Michael and his infinitely understanding mother accept Pat Dougherty's alcoholism with sadness and hope. Unfortunately, Pat's drinking problem increases, and he becomes more abusive. As Mrs. Dougherty struggles to make the toughest decision of her life about the man she can't help loving, Michael clings to his unique friendship with Ricky, a delicate and tender-hearted youth who harbors a terrifying secret about his own family. Longing for stability and a caring environment, the two boys confide in one another and make a pact that Michael will soon regret. Roers shows great skill at maintaining the momentum of his storytelling and the tension between his characters. Through smooth prose, a splash of humor and concise but effective details, he sweeps the reader onto empathetic, emotional white water, joining these sensitively portrayed characters as they cascade from youthful insouciance to rage, pity and remorse. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780898232042
  • Publisher: New Rivers Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2000
  • Series: MVP Series
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 1,406,900
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Read an Excerpt

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Appareled in celestial light, The glory and the freshness of a dream. It is not now as it hath been of yore; — Turn whereso'er I may, By night or day, The things which I have seen I now can see no more
—William Wordsworth

Chapter One

The building where we lived is gone now, simply swept aside to make room for a freeway. It stood on the corner of Eighteenth Street and Elliot Avenue in south Minneapolis, a five-story building made of brick the color of dried blood. We lived in one of the two basement apartments — the one that faced east, the Elliot Avenue side of the building. There were five of us cramped into a tiny, one-bedroom unit: my parents, my older brother, Ron, my younger sister, Katy, and me. I suppose it could be argued that we lived in a state of relative poverty, but it was a time when children weren't so acutely aware of how the rest of the world lived, a time when children felt less pressured to be sophisticated and cynical beyond their years.

    My world, at the age of eight, was small geographically and devoid of nearly all luxuries, but seemed to me to lack nothing in the way of excitement, mystery, and adventure. My friends and I managed to fill our days with those critical and frivolous activities of childhood, without the slightest suspicion of being deprived in any way.

    After saying this, I must quickly add that there was also a darker side to this lesscomplex period. As in any time, you grew to recognize the fallibility and torment of adults and authorities in your life. Sometimes the understanding came slowly, as with the terrible struggle and agonies of my father. At other times, it came swiftly and with a paralyzing shock that unalterably changed your view of life, as with the horrible secret of Ricky Stedman and his mother.

    I first met Ricky on a warm, windless Tuesday in June of 1948. Ron and I were on our way to Rodriguez's drugstore, which for some forgotten reason we always pronounced "Rotograph's." It was located on the southwest corner of our block and faced the wide, heavily trafficked street of Chicago Avenue. To get to Rotograph's we had only to walk the short half-block from Elliot to Chicago, across the alley and past Leo's Ice House.

    Ron and I always walked fast on our way to the drugstore, in the hope of avoiding any conversation with Leo. It wasn't that we feared or disliked Leo; we simply didn't like being delayed by his dull, rambling questions, and his odd laughter at our answers.

    "He's out there," Ron said. "Just keep walking fast. I think maybe he's sleeping."

    I nodded in agreement.

    "Don't look at him."

    I kept pace with Ron and, without moving my head in Leo's direction, glanced only with my eyes as we approached the front of the ice house.

    Leo was sitting on a wooden chair that was propped against the front of his shed. Only the back legs of the chair touched the ground. His arms were folded across his chest and his head was slumped forward so that his chin looked like it grew out of the bottom of his throat. The ice house was really no more than a wooden shack made of unfinished planks weathered to a dusty gray. It always looked to me like a miniature house without windows, made of ashes. Above the small entryway was a hand-painted sign that spelled out "Ice House" in wobbly letters.

    The slumbering Leo suddenly came to life, leaned forward, and brought his chair to rest on all four legs. "Good morning, boys," he said. He worked his large tan hands back and forth along the tops of his thighs. "Where you two going?"

    Being the oldest, Ron always represented both of us to any inquiring adults. "Me and my brother are just going over to Rotograph's."

    Leo's large head bowed slightly, and we could hear the familiar chuckle rattle around in his throat. He reached up with one hand and rubbed his woolly gray hair. Finally, he raised his head and looked at us, squinting into the sun so that his eyes were shadowy folds in his round, weathered face. "How are your folks?"

    "Fine, sir. Just fine," Ron said.

    "They still having their ice delivered?"

    Ron shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Yes sir."

    "They could get it cheaper here, you know. Why, two big fellows like you could haul it in your wagon. You have a wagon, don't you?"

    "He knows we do," I whispered to Ron. Ron reached back and gave my arm a just-keep-quiet squeeze.

    "Yes sir," Ron said.

    "You should talk to your folks about that. Tell them old Leo can save them some money. They could keep their icebox cold for a week at half the price. Tell them you could haul the ice in your wagon."

    "I'll tell them," Ron quickly replied. "Me and my brother really have to go now. My mom wants us home right away, we got some stuff we have to do for her," he lied.

    Leo was not about to let the conversation end. "How old are you boys now?" he asked, as if Ron had made no mention of our need to hurry.

    "I'm twelve and Mike is eight," Ron said. "We really got to go now. Nice talking to you, sir."

    Leo laughed his little throaty laugh and started to speak again, but Ron just turned away and pulled me by the elbow. "So long sir," he shouted as he ushered me along toward the drugstore.

    As we neared the corner, safely out of Leo's sight, we saw a boy about my size standing alone in front of Rotograph's. He had carrot-colored hair that was cut short and even, perhaps within a quarter inch of his scalp. His pale blue eyes watched us with a steady but frightened look as we approached, almost as if he were afraid not to watch us. He wore khaki shorts that were too large for him and gave his thin legs a scrawny, sickly appearance. A clean red-and-white striped T-shirt was tucked into his shorts.

    "Hiya kid," Ron said.


    "You live around here?" Ron asked.

    "Yeah," the boy said and looked at the ground. "We just moved in."


    "Over there," the boy said without looking up, and pointed in the direction of our building.

    "Where over there?" Ron said in his most nonthreatening voice.

    "Across from the big red building."

    "Oh, yeah?" Ron said. "You live right across the street from us."

    "Uh-huh," the carrot-haired boy said, as if he had known this fact from the start.

    "What's your name?"

    Carrot-hair looked up at my brother. "Ricky. Ricky Stedman."

    "Hi, Ricky," my brother said. "I'm Ron Dougherty and this is my brother, Mike."

    Ricky Stedman looked directly at me for the first time. "Hi, Mike," he said in a sort of monotone voice.

    "Hi." I followed with my most important question. "What grade are you in?"

    "Going into third."

    "Me too. Maybe we'll be in the same class. You'll be going to Madison School, right?"

    "I guess so."

    At this point Ron must have decided that my conversation was leading nowhere and that he needed to redirect things. "Mike and me are going into Rotograph's to get suicide Cokes," he said. "Do you know what a suicide Coke is?"

    Ricky Stedman shook his head.

    "It's one squirt of every flavor at the fountain, mixed with Coke. Old Rotograph makes the best suicide Cokes in town. Come on with us and have one."

    "Can't" Ricky said as he stared at the sidewalk.

    "It's okay if you haven't got any money," Ron said. "We can get an extra straw."

    "Can't go in. I have to wait here for my mom."

    "Well, where's your mom?" Ron said.

    "She's in the drugstore, and I have to wait here for her."

    While Ron was obviously trying to think of some way to react to this odd piece of information, a streetcar clattered pass us. It was headed north on Chicago Avenue toward downtown. The metal wheels of the yellow wooden car clacked and screeched along the steel tracks, giving Ron an extra moment to reflect on Ricky Stedman's situation.

    Suddenly, Ron smiled and dug deep into the pocket of his jeans. "Ricky, you see this penny?"


    "Bet I can make it big as a quarter. Have you ever seen a penny as big as a quarter?"


    I knew what Ron had in mind. If you put a BB on the streetcar track, it would flatten out as big as a dime when the car rolled over it. A penny could be crashed in an instant to the size of a quarter.

    "Watch this, Ricky. I'm going to make this penny as big as a quarter."

    Just as Ron finished promising this incredible trick, a woman's voice, loud and demanding, came from behind us. Ricky winced, as though the sound had struck him with physical force. "Get over here, Ricky—this instant!"

    Ron and I turned toward the voice to see a woman of astounding height. She was thin and not particularly pretty, and the scowl on her face made me think of the word mean. But, more than her height or her forceful voice or her scowl, what made the greatest impression on me were her eyes. They seemed to have no color, just tiny black dots lost in a murky pool of white and gray. I couldn't stop looking at her eyes, though I wanted to look away, to not be seen by her.

    "Right now, Ricky!"

    Our new acquaintance marched dutifully to her side. The woman reached down and grabbed Ricky by the hand. She turned quickly and mechanically marched away with Ricky in tow.

    Ron and I watched as Ricky's scrawny little legs tried to keep up with the woman's long, rapid stride. I heard her say something about staying away from "boys like that." Then, just as I was about to turn away, I saw Ricky Stedman look back at Ron and me, and with his free hand he gave us a little good-bye wave.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 5, 2009

    Childhood memories in Minnesota

    Nicely written, easy read but descriptive and thought provoking. Discusses some of the unspoken daily activies and childhood challenges during the late '40's in a blue collar neighborhood. Great for book clubs and really brings back memories of your own cultural experiences as an second generation immigrant family in America/

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2000

    Hard to put down.

    Characters come to life in this compassionate first novel. You become absorbed in the lives of these boys and their family and friends, and anxiously await the next chapter. Those who grew up in the 40's will relate to this novel and those who did not will find the book a very enjoyable and fast read. It appeals to all ages. Hopefully, we'll hear more from this author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2000

    An absorbing short novel

    Walter Roers has written a short novel that deals with the experiences and sensations of youth, and 'moral' issues common to all: Understanding and foregiveness, honor, opportunities shared and missed. His writing is concise and thoroughly enjoyable, and this book is read easily and fast. But don't let that fool you--there is much substance to Roers' oeuvre. We hope that this debut novel will be followed by many more, and look forward to reading them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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