The Giftby Pete Hamill
Originally published in 1973 and long unavailable, THE GIFT returns to print in a paperback edition that features a bound-in reading group guide. This short novel portends the great literary promise that Pete Hamill would eventually fulfill in such bestsellers as A Drinking Life, Snow in August, Forever, Downtown, and North River, to name just a few.
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By Pete Hamill
LITTLE, BROWNCopyright © 1973 Deidre Enterprises
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI: HIM: THAT YOUNG MAN, STANDING THERE IN THE cold, the pea-jacket collar pulled high against the bald neck, the hat cocked saltily over the eye, the sea bag frosted with rain: that young man, seventeen years and six months old, out there at the entrance to the Jersey Turnpike, the world hammered flat and cold by the rain, a world empty of light, the tar of the road glistening and slick. I: him: five-foot-eleven, one hundred and sixty-seven pounds, chin tucked down like the fighters in the gym at home, wishing his shoulders weren't so blocky and square, wishing they sloped more, like Paddy Young's, staring out into the emptiness, watching the car lights grow from double tackholes in the dark to blurred sheets fretted with rain, the drivers stopped for the toll, paying it, and then moving on, snug containers of warmth, heading for New York, while he waited with the large man in the raincoat, under the entrance, in custody, and not caring, and thinking of steam. I: him: that young man who once was me, so strange now and distant, heading home, after a long time away.
It began somewhere else, in some other year, in a place thick with steam. I was sure of that. I slept on a couch in an aunt's house in Bay Ridge, eight years old, and it was the first time I had ever seena radiator. The stream sprayed itself upon the windows in the deep winter night, and when I awoke, I thought it was the snow come at last, the White Christmas that Bing Crosby had promised, or the Christmas of horse-drawn sleighs, trees with serrated bark, children with heavy wool mufflers bundled against the cold, and all the fine-drawn English faces I had seen in the dank-smelling bound volumes of the St. Nicholas magazine in the public library on Ninth Street. But mine was no greeting-card Christmas, and there was no snow; only steam, forced from the radiator, glazing the window of that strange house, like the breath of an old and very fat man. Standing on the Jersey Turnpike, I remembered that Christmas, my mother gone to the hospital, and no word from my father, no touch of his rough beard, his slick black hair, his hoarse voice.
"It should be along any minute now, sailor," the trooper said.
"You think I can get on it?" I said. "It might be crowded."
"I'll put you on it, young man."
The windows of the tollbooth were opaque with steam, and I remember wondering how many hours the man inside had actually worked, and whether he lived nearby, and how much he was paid. He was a fat, sloppy man, furiously smoking Camels, and looking at a Philadelphia Bulletin. I didn't like him. The cop was all right; he was doing his job, and part of his job was to stop people from hitchhiking on the Jersey Turnpike. But the fat guy in the booth was cloaked in steam, reading the paper, and chain-smoking his weeds, and I made him for a guy who cut his toenails and left the parings on the floor. I wondered if they had linoleum on the floors in Jersey and whether the guy had lived his whole life with steam heat.
"You comin' up from Bainbridge, son?" the trooper said.
"During the war-the big war, the last war-most of the kids around here went up to that Great Lakes. I had a buddy went there, matter of fact. Up near Chicago. Bainbridge, that was later. You like it?"
"It's all right," I said.
"Watch your ass in that Korea."
The man in the booth leaned back, and the headline in the paper said MARINES BATTLE REDS AT CHOSIN.
"Hey," the trooper said. "Here it comes now."
Away off, two saucer-shaped lights were approaching in the darkness. The Greyhound panted up to the tollbooth, wheezing and protesting, smelling of hot rubber and burnt gasoline. The windshield wipers slapped away rain as the trooper waved and the doors opened. The guy in the tollbooth nodded, and went back to his paper.
"I got one for you, Jerry," the trooper said.
"No problem," the driver said.
I shouldered the sea bag and moved to the door.
"Try not to hitchhike on the turnpike again, sailor. It's only a mess of trouble."
I started to get on, and the trooper touched my arm. "You got enough money, son?"
I looked at him: he had a kind face, and I liked him. "Enough."
I stepped on, but when I turned to tell him thanks, the trooper was gone.
Excerpted from The Gift by Pete Hamill Copyright ©1973 by Deidre Enterprises. Excerpted by permission.
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I didn't like this book at all. Some parts of it were actually disgusting. I think Hamill just wanted to talk about himself, and make himself look good. He failed. I read and enjoyed 'Forever', but probably won't try another of Hamill's books.
In 1952 seventeen and a half years old Pete is going home to spend Christmas with his parents, in realty mom as dad is never there for him, until he ships out to Korea as a sailor. Before leaving for the small war, Pete wishes he could help his beloved mom with money that she does not have, but still uses to decorate the Brooklyn apartment just for him. He also wants to come to grips with his two failed relationships before shipping to the war zone. Recently his girlfriend Kathleen sent him a Dear John letter while he was at boot camp and he never has had anything to do with his brusque father Billy. --- Pete quickly realizes that Kathleen has met someone else so he knows that relationship is over. Billy continues to act like his son is an inconvenient stranger until Pete decides to go into the lion¿s lair. On Christmas Eve, he shocks himself as much as his dad when he visits his father¿s only hangout, the neighborhood bar Rattigan's, for the first time. There he begins to see a different side to the always tired and snippy factory worker who sired him as they drink the night away together. --- This reprint of a 1970s warm Yuletide family drama remains current perhaps because our leaders still send our working class (and disadvantaged) youths to war. Though at times a bit schmaltzy the story line provides a powerful look at Brooklyn during the early 1950s, but does so through the interrelationships or lack of between Pete and his parents. Fans will hope that Pete gets THE GIFT he so much desires in life that his father calls him ¿son¿. --- Harriet Klausner
I read 'The Gift' in Nov 1979 when I was getting ready to get out of the Army at Ft Sill, Oklahoma. The next week the TV movie version came out with Glenn Ford and Julie Harris. The book is a true masterpiece. It tells of coming-of-age, gain and loss. I am glad it will be coming out again. Pete proves himself as being a master of prose. Thanks, Pete. Neil Rice