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"Mr. Kokoris's talent is evident on every page. He is in touch with the human spirit and offers, in this post-modern world, a refreshing hope for redemption."--Howard Bahr, author of The Black Flower and The Year of Jubilo
"In The Rich Part of Life, Jim Kokoris has created the rarest of literary gems-- a narrator who is pure of heart yet entirely authentic. He writes through the eyes of Teddy Pappas with both clarity and innocence. This debut novelist is one of tremendous promise, and I look forward to all of his future books."
--T. Greenwood, author of Nearer than the Sky and Breathing Water
"A hilarious gem. Kokoris has a David Sedaris-like ear for the lyrical quirks and idiosyncrasies of his ridiculous yet endearing family of characters. A wonderful comic novel on a par with Richard Russo, at once madcap and absurd, with a plot that is always engaging, compelling, and yes, heartwarming."
--Richard Rushfield, author of On Spec
The day we won the lottery I was wearing wax lips that my father had bought for the Nose Picker and me at a truck stop. We were driving back from my great-aunt Bess's house in the old Buick and we stopped for gas at a place called Ammo's along the interstate, where my father bought the lottery ticket along with the bright red wax lips.
"It's been thirty years since I've seen wax lips," my father said in his tired way as he reached into his pocket for money. My mother had died in an accident one year earlier on the same interstate and ever since then my father had seemed defeated like one of his Confederate generals that he read so much about. When he walked, he pitched his shoulders forward and bowed his head in a sad, thoughtful way that reminded me of grieving nuns. Earlier that day, I had heard him tell my aunt that he hadn't been sleeping well.
"My God, you shouldn't be driving then," Aunt Bess had said. She had insisted on our staying overnight at her house in Milwaukee but my father had refused. Instead, he stopped for coffee at Ammo's, and for the second time in a year, our lives changed forever.
Ammo's was a dirty, loud place that stank of gasoline and oil. When the Nose Picker and I went to the bathroom, we breathed out of our mouths and didn't bother to wash our hands in the small, stained sink. Once we got back in the Buick, we rolled up the windows to shut out the screeching and whining of the large trucks and to escape the smell of the bathroom that we were sure was following us.
"Are your seat belts securelyfastened?" myfather said as he got into the car, balancing his coffee on the dashboard.
"Yes," I said, though mine was not buckled. I knew my father would not turn his head to check. He frequently had a stiff neck and kept head-turning to a minimum.
I looked over at the Nose Picker and then helped him fasten his belt. "Yes."
"All right then," he said as he turned the key. "We'll be home in an hour or so. I imagine."
It was early evening in August, the time of day when the fading light and growing darkness hang in balance. While we drove back to our home in Wilton, a suburb of Chicago, I drew pictures of the white clouds in the sky, large and soft. The clouds hung high and I imagined my mother living inside them, floating quietly and humming like she did when she used to draw with me. The Nose Picker hated it when I drew. He became restless and then angry. He chewed noisily on his wax lips.
"I want a crayon," the Nose Picker said. "I want to draw too." I handed him some paper and a green crayon whose tip was well rounded. I never gave my brother a crayon with a sharp tip for fear he would stick it up his nose.
"His interest in his nose isn't normal," Aunt Bess had told my father. "It must be some type of reaction to the death."
My father had not looked up from his latest Civil War book. "He picked his nose before the accident. He's only five years old. I'm confident that he'll grow out of it."
"Are they seeing a psychiatrist?" Aunt Bess had asked. My father hadn't responded, though. He just sat hunched over in a chair in Aunt Bess's living room, reading about the life of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Civil War general.
Later that night, when we returned home and were getting into bed, I asked him about the book even though I generally found his discussions about the Civil War dull and wanted instead to study the wax lips in more detail. The only thing my father showed any interest in, however, was the war and I wanted him to show interest tonight. He had been very quiet the past few days.
He seemed surprised by my question. "Well, it's about General Chamberlain," he said, clearing his throat. "He held the Union flank at Gettysburg." He was silent for a moment and I could tell that he was thinking. "It's probably best that I diagram his maneuver. It was really quite remarkable." He pulled up my desk chair and reached for the pencil and paper that were on my desk. "Chamberlain was supposed to hold the Union position at a place called Little Round Top at Gettysburg. Not only did he hold it, he performed one of the most extraordinary counterattacks in history. He split his men like this, like an L and swung half his regiment over like a door shutting. He routed the rebels."
At this point I realized that I had underestimated my father's interest in Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and, as a result, feared a major discussion on the war was taking shape. I had expected and hoped for a brief lecture, just enough to revitalize him, but judging from the tone of his voice and comfortable way he was arranging himself in his chair, I knew a lengthy dissertation on maneuvers and strategy was looming.
My father's interest in the war had been the cause of many arguments between my mother and him. A few weeks before the accident, my father had begun planning a family vacation to Shilo National Park. He was explaining to me why the battle was important when my mother walked into his study, saw the maps and brochures spread out on his desk and erupted.
"Are you nuts? Why do I want to go there? There's cemeteries twenty minutes from here," she yelled. "It would be different if you had fought in the stupid war. Then maybe I could understand your obsession."
"No," my father quietly said, "I did not fight in the war. If I had fought in the war, I would be more than one hundred and fifty years old."
"You act one hundred and fifty years old," my mother said. She picked up a brochure and then slammed it down on his desk. "We should go some place fun like Las Vegas," she said. "It's very family friendly now."
My father looked hurt, his forehead pinched tight, his eyes faraway and resigned. It was a look that I would come to know well. "Family friendly," he repeated.
Sitting on my small desk chair now, his legs crossed at the ankles, his hands in his lap, my father prepared to launch into a new discussion that could last indefinitely. He was an average-sized man, sagging and soft in the middle, with thinning white hair that stood out in small tufts on the sides of his head like cotton candy. His small, narrow eyes were offset by a strong and hard chin that out in a way that incorrectly suggested confidence and pride. Leaning jutted forward in my desk chair, I saw his eyes take on a rare bright and eager look as he scanned distant horizons, probing the rebel lines, searching for a weakness, a direction to charge. Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Bull Run, Atlanta, Lookout Mountain, my father was a veteran of them all. He had ridden in the mud with Grant, stood his ground with Jackson, maneuvered brilliantly with Lee, burned cities with Sherman, and died many times with Lincoln.
"Daddy, my nose is bleeding," the Nose Picker said, walking into my room.
The blood was a startling bright red that dripped down Tommy's chin onto his yellow pajama top. Despite its redness, I wasn't concerned. Tommy had frequent nosebleeds, messy but harmless, and they required nothing more than a cold washcloth and a pat on the head to set things right.
My father, though, was concerned. "Dear God," he said. Jumping up, he grabbed Tommy and disappeared down the hallway. Ten minutes later, when he returned to my bedside, I pretended to be asleep in a manner that I had perfected: mouth open, head thrown back on the pillow. I heard my, father sigh and felt him readjust my sheets. Then I heard him walk out. That's when I took the wax lips out from under my pillow and studied them.
They interested me, as most odd objects interest eleven-year-old boys. They were smooth and light and had a tiny ridge on the backside that slid between my teeth in a precise and perfect way. Putting them on, I imagined myself kissing Miss Grace, my soft and sweet teacher, full on the lips as we danced around her desk.
"Teddy," she would whisper, holding my face in her hands. "Teddy Pappas. Where did you get those lips?"
After my vision of Miss Grace faded, I quietly took the case off my, pillow and wrapped it around my head like a turban, then grabbed a blanket and threw it over my shoulders and wore it like a cape. With my wax lips firmly in place in my mouth, I then crossed the hall and entered the Nose Picker's room, intending to wake and terrify him, something I occasionally did when the mood struck me. A few weeks earlier, I had hid under his bed and made vague growling noises until he screamed.
The Nose Picker's room was small and so cluttered with toys and clothes, that it took some time before I could safely navigate a path to his bed. Once there, I hovered close to his face to check his nose for blood, something I knew my father would forget to do. Finding it clean and dry, I began to lightly moan through the wax lips, hoping to wake him. I did this for awhile, waiting for him to stir. When he finally did roll over, however, I stopped moaning. In his hands I saw a blue and pink sweater. It had been my mother's.
I stood there and watched him hold the sweater. I hated and loved my brother in a way that only brothers can and worried about him and his strange behavior. I knew he missed my mother fiercely and had heard him crying many times in his sleep. Yet, this was the first time I had seen him holding her sweater.
I watched him for what seemed a long time. His thick black hair was pushed back off his forehead and his mouth was open. He looked small and still and young. Taking the wax lips out of my mouth, I bent down close to his ear and whispered the Hall Mary. My mother had always said this prayer with us at bedtime and my saying it then was as much for her sake as Tommy's. When I finished, I returned to my room, my cape, a blanket again, dragging behind me. I was tired.
A while later, after I had fallen asleep, I was awakened by the sounds of sobbing. At first, I thought it was the Nose Picker but then, as my head cleared of sleep, I recognized the crying to be my father's. This frightened me. I had only heard him cry once before and only briefly at my mother's funeral. Fearing that he was hurt or sick, I carefully made my way into his bedroom where I found him sitting on the edge of his bed holding the lottery ticket that he had bought at Ammo's. He didn't notice me at first, so I stood and watched him cry, his shoulders shaking, his eyes wet and red.
"Why are you crying?" I finally asked.
He looked up and quickly wiped away his tears, embarrassed. "The television, I just heard. I was watching the news on the television downstairs," he said. Then he looked down at the ticket, then back up at me. "I think we won quite a bit of money, Teddy," he said quietly. "Dear God, I think we won an awful lot of money."
2. Do you think Bobby Lee really wants Teddy, or is the money his sole motivation?
3. There are many reasons for Theo's attraction to Gloria Wilcott. Do you think he would have continued the relationship if the scene at the country club had not taken place?
4. How are the themes of the random nature of life and luck explored in this novel?
5. At the end of the story, how do you think Theo and Teddy feel about having won the lottery?
6. Do you think the winning of the lottery helps Theo to acknowledge his love for Teddy?
7. How and why do Theo, Teddy, Maurice, Carl the Bear, and Dr. Spiral behave as heroes in this novel? Who do you think is the true hero of the book?
8. Some readers feel that Bobby Lee is more confused than evil. Would you have liked to see him more sympathetically portrayed, or do you think the book needs a "bad guy"?
Posted September 8, 2011
This was a good tale, but my enjoyment was greatly diminished by the amount of errors in the eBook. "Fie" for "He" was by the far the most common, and I stopped counting after 10 occurrences. I am disappointed to find this in a book this old and yet still $9.99! This was a selection for my book club, and everyone who read a hard copy really enjoyed it. I'm sorry I bought it for my Nook.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
I just love this book, can't understand why it's not more popular. It was recommended to me by a friend in a book club, and I recommended it to my book club. Everyone loved it. I think it's amazing that the author can write from the perspective of a 9-yr.-old boy and really get it right. His humor throughout is so subtle, just love how he writes. The characters are quirky but they grow on you, I ended up loving the uncle, who at first I thought was just annoying. It's wonderful to see how the father reaches out, knowing it's just so against his nature but knowing he has to or he will lose his son. The main character is only 9 but is such an old soul.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 16, 2010
I found this book listed in a book chat room. It's opening line: "The day we won the lottery I was wearing the wax lips that my dad bought me and the Nose Picker at the gas station". How can you not like a book that has a entry like that. What a charming find. It has the most interesting characters. I have to say my favorite would be the out of work vampiric actor. It has many humorous moments and I found myself laughing out loud quite frequently. It is sometimes predictable but still very enjoyable.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 18, 2003
This was the best fiction book I have read in a long time. What a gem of a find! The characters are so real and although quirky, they are genuine and true throughout the book. I found the book hard to put down, suspenseful, funny, and unforgetable. What would you do if you won $190 million??? This is the dilemma one of the characters (who sees no need for money) is faced with. While most of us wish we had to face this decision, it is life-changing and threatening to the main characters of this story. Light, yet exceptional reading!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 23, 2002
Posted March 6, 2002
At first i thought it was going to be stupid but i was wrong. Its really funny and suspense like. It had very sad and happy moments, it even talks about the Civil War!I really enjoyed it and im very picky, so it has to be a god book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 16, 2001
I loved this first novel by this author! I laughed out loud when I read about the Nose Picker and the other characters are also interesting and funny. This is told from a great point of view and I'll read this author's next book as soon as it's out.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 8, 2001
It's difficult for an adult to write convincingly from a child's point of view, but Jim Kokoris does exactly that in this debut novel. Teddy's narrative seems totally natural, and the portrayal of his younger brother Tommy is also right on target. Other major characters--like Uncle Frank--add some very comic touches (in the movie version, Nathan Lane would be perfect for the part). Despite the unusual plot line--all the disadvantages that can accompany winning a huge amount of money in the lottery--and some very eccentric characters, the story basically tells how this particular family finally comes to terms with the death of the children's mother, and the boys realizing how much their deeply reserved father actually loves them. While that may sound 'sappy,' the book is not--it is funny, fast moving and has some characters that will stick with you long after you've finished the book--one of the most enjoyable novels I've read this year.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 15, 2009
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