Aaron, Approximately

Aaron, Approximately

by Zachary Lazar


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380732135
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/01/1999
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.24(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.95(d)

About the Author

Zachary Lazar's previous novel, Sway (LB, 978-0-316-11309-0, 1/08), was chosen as a Best Book of 2008 by the Los Angeles Times, and his memoir, Evening's Empire: The Story of My Father's Murder (LB, 978-0-316-03768-6, 11/09), was named a Best Book of 2009 in the Chicago Tribune. Lazar is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. He lives in New Orleans, where he is on the creative writing faculty at Tulane University.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Aaron Aproximately

It starts with my family, of course. Childhood, adolescence, the American way of sorting out what is real from what is not. My family was credulous, idealistic, odd, old-fashioned. I trained myself to be otherwise. The result has been a kind of tetherball existence, an orbiting around the parental pole with more speed than grace, more movement than progress.

My forebears could not have known how audacious the name Bright would sound after three generations on American soil. They were single-minded people--Romanian Jews who traveled all the way to South Dakota to seek their fortune in dry goods. In Rapid City, they refined the homely Breit to a more Anglo-Saxon Bright, and I doubt that my great-grandfather tempered this affectation with even the slightest shrug of irony. The irony would come later, with my grandfather, the first of our line to have a mostly American childhood. Shortly before his death, my grandfather had visions of the color yellow. For a few swooning moments, the walls of the old apartment shone for him like sunflowers, someone had replaced his Dilantin with iodine tablets, my grandmother's hair had molted into a brilliant bouffant of golden fleece. He started grimacing as if from indigestion, or was perhaps smiling in his grudging, sarcastic way. "It's in my head," he said, squinting. "I suppose it's some kind of joke." He was talking about the sun; he felt the sun inside his head. And what my grandfather might have smiled at was that after all these years of impersonal distance, that brightest of orbs had suddenly dropped itself into his skull, just in time for him todie.

He had never asked for such fanfare. He and his family must have looked up at the towering sky over Rapid City and felt blessed, saved even, as though God Himself had been disarmed by these new surroundings. They must have also felt shame and guilt for having fled with their Jewish hides. This last solar flourish might have seemed to my grandfather a divine mockery of his comfortable American life.

My father had no such worries about God's censoriousness. He was that rare thing, a Jew without dread. With his sheer, guileless optimism, he might have sprung out of a Yiddish folk tale, or a pyramid of varsity cheerleaders. Perhaps the best way to introduce him would be to whisk you into my mother's garage, where behind the croquet set and the garden hose we might find his old bicycle. It is an ancient three-speed with an outsized triangular seat and the type of broad handlebars that might have been useful on a paper route fifty years ago. It is an obsolete machine, comic and rickety, but eighteen years after my father's death, my mother has still not found the courage to throw it away.He was named for Horace Mann, the famous American educator, though Horace Bright was no scholar. He was the star and writer of a children's television hour. The Horace and Waldo Show was aired twice daily, early morning and after school, in three states, from its home base in Denver, Colorado. There, before an adoring studio audience, my father would tap-dance between cartoons with his golden cane, purple tails, and giant purple top hat, while his sidekick, Waldo, fat, his brown bowler pushed down over his eyebrows, would try to follow along, grimacing all the while at the howls of laughter. A brace of Looney Tunes would ensue, and as my father and Waldo retreated to the wings to mount their unicycles or gather their Indian clubs, the rapt studio kids would pick through their cavernous "Waldo Bags" for the candy lying among the yo-yo's and plastic rings and invisible-ink pens.

"Thuhbudda-thuhbudda-thuhbudd-that's all, folks," Waldo might parrot at the end of a cartoon, and this was my father's cue to roll his eyes at the audience, crossing his arms in disappointment.

"Waldo, you sound like a St. Bernard with a mud pie up his nose. That's no Porky the Pig."

Waldo, cocking back his bowler for a gigantic wink at the peanut gallery, would retort, "Oh? Well, I'll tell you something. At least I don't smell like Porky the Pig."And as we doubled over giggling, my father would cringe and weep beneath his purple top hat, almost turning into a cartoon himself. We had no idea then that we were actually laughing at ourselves, that through his burlesque our own recent crying jags had become distant, ridiculous memories. Of course, it was the rotund Waldo who usually played the fool, and then my father became a magician, quick and sly as a man pulling doves out of thin air. One of these gags, I learned from the videotapes, was used no less than twenty-six times in seven years, but I always laughed. The only variation was in the setup, and if the joke was funny at all, it was only because you saw the punch line coming so much earlier than hapless Waldo ever did.

"Hey, Waldo, come over here," my father would begin with an inquisitive look.Waldo would put his hands on his hips and skeptically tap his foot. "Whadduya want, Horace? Can't you see I'm busy?"


"I'm not feeling so hot, Horace. Someone told me I got a funny name."

My father would then walk up to his friend, lean on his cane for a thoughtful moment, and put an arm around Waldo's shoulder. "Who said that, Waldo? Why, you have a perfectly distinguished name."

Waldo would grimace. "But someone said it sounds like . . . like . . . "

"Like what, Waldo?"


At this point, my father, standing right beside Waldo, would suddenly whirl his cane around in a deftly executed roundhouse and tip over Waldo's bowler, exposing his comically hairless head.

"BALDO!" he would blurt out, in jubilant surprise.

Fooled, as if for the first time, Waldo would run around in a circle, covering and uncovering his head as though on fire, then finally hightailing it offstage.

What People are Saying About This

Margot Livesey

Zachary Lazar knows everything there is to know about the late twentieth century and its many masks; he is a master of joy and sorrow, humor and despair. Aaron, Approximately introduces an irresistible hero and a scintillating new writer.

Scott Heim

Aaron, Approximately is about loneliness and lust, mutiny and surrender, all the intimate and excruciatingly familiar disturbances of youth. Uncannily wise, Zachary Lazar has gotten all of it, every last beautiful word of it, right.

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Aaron, Approximately 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book!! A poignant coming-of-age novel, it embodies all the disapointments of growing up. However, this book doesn't address loneliness as much as the reviews say it does. Nonetheless, it is still a wonderful book and i recommend it whole-heartedly.