John L’Heureux is one of our most authoritative and compelling novelists, and An Honorable Profession is a “splendid novel” realized “superbly well” about an ordinary New England school where a young teacher’s life is about to undergo the most serious of tests (The Star-Ledger).
Miles Bannon works hard and strives to be fair; he enjoys his popularity with students—a bit too much, sometimes—but overall he is a good man. When he witnesses a group of students picking on one boy in the shower after football practice, he is suddenly forced to balance his responsibility for the situation with the unexpectedly intimate glimpse he now has of them. And when the victim begins to cling to him in the face of his own father’s rejection, Miles finds it perhaps too welcome a feeling. Then comes an accusation of impropriety that will destroy his career—and transform his life, and who he thought he was, forever.
“Brilliant and complex . . . A deeply ambitious novelist . . . who isn’t afraid of dealing with dark themes and what it means to be fully human.” —Robert Ward, The New York Time Book Review
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About the Author
He has received numerous favorable reviews in the New York Times and elsewhere for his poetry and novels; writing Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts upon two occasions; and was awarded a Guggenheim Grant to do research for his novel, The Medici Boy. This is all in addition to having twice received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, and many other tributes to his talent and developed skills.
John L’Heureux is now retired and lives in California with his wife Joan, also a teacher and writer.
Date of Birth:October 26, 1934
Place of Birth:South Hadley, Massachusetts
Education:Graduate degrees in philosophy and English from Boston College and Harvard University
Read an Excerpt
From his classroom window Miles could see the football team scrimmaging down on the field. They were looking good today, or at least pretty good. Miles watched as the quarterback — it was Paul Ciampa — threw a long spiraling pass to a fat kid who missed the ball by yards and then fell all over himself trying to cover it. Tough luck, Fatso. Coach ran out on the field in his half-ass way, limping from the accident and from the booze. What a mess.
Miles shook his head and turned back to the classroom where the last two kids were serving their time in Detention: Polcari and some other little kid.
"Mr. Bannon? I think my time is up, sir? Can I go?"
"Sir?" Miles said, picking up the kid's tone. "Sir? You're a freshman, I take it." The kid blushed and nodded, stricken. "Sorry," Miles said. "It's all right to be a freshman, for a year anyway. And your name is ...?"
"No last name, Patrick?"
"Muldoon? You're not sure?"
Muldoon grinned. He was a tiny little kid, and with his big nose and that wide grin, he looked like one of those mice in the cartoons.
"Well, Muldoon, I hope you'll mend your sorry ways." Miles ticked off Muldoon's name on the Detention list. That left only Richy Polcari, and then he could go and jog. Miles bounced up and down on the balls of his feet a couple times. Muldoon was taking forever just getting his books together.
"What the hell are you doing, Muldoon?" Miles said, and at once the books slithered from Muldoon's arms onto the desk and from there to the floor, where the boy began scrambling to pick them up. What a funny kid. What a funny-looking kid.
"How'd you manage to get Detention this early in the year, Muldoon? Are you a mess?"
"Yes, sir. The dog ate my homework" — Muldoon scooped up the last of the books — "and Mr. Douglas didn't believe me. But she did. Honest."
"Ah, the exacting Mr. Douglas, with his muse of fire."
"He didn't believe me."
"And what is the name of this excellent dog, Muldoon?"
"Doggina?" Miles laughed out loud. "An Italian dog?"
"No, she's American, a beagle. My mother's Italian."
"Doggina. Well, you're marvelous, Muldoon. You are a many-splendored thing." Muldoon stood there, looking at him. "You can take off now," Miles said, "but if you ever get Detention again, Muldoon, I shall personally flog you to within an inch of your wretched life. Understand?"
Muldoon nodded and waved goodbye. Miles stared after him, fierce-looking, pleased.
Miles was proctoring Detention this week. Every teacher had a proctoring job — in the corridors, the toilets, the study hall, wherever kids could make trouble. Miles didn't really mind Detention, especially not at this time of year. It was still September, so the good kids hadn't yet begun to hate everything and the delinquents hadn't yet got caught. Besides, Detention gave him a chance to see kids on a nice easy basis. They were officially guilty of something, and that meant he could joke around with them or be tough with them or just ignore them while he corrected papers. Sometimes — when the kid was the last one there and one of Miles' favorites — he might even be personal and friendly. Actually this was a pretty good school, with a lot of nice kids and with very few tough discipline problems — if you didn't count Deirdre Forster, who was unlike anything Malburn High had ever seen. These were good kids and Miles felt lucky to have this job.
"Hey, Miles, how come he called you sir?"
Miles was still staring after the departed Muldoon, so clearly pleased that Richy Polcari took this as an invitation to chat.
"He called you sir, you know."
"Do you want to be called sir? I'll call you sir, if you want."
"It'd be kind of cool, if you want."
"You've got another half-hour, Richy. Study something, will you, please?"
Polcari was called Polecat by everybody, even by the teachers. Miles called him Richy, and so did a few of the women, but he gave Miles the creeps, frankly.
Miles turned to the window to check out the scrimmage and to put an end to Polcari. The classroom was on the second floor of the building, and the football field was at the bottom of the knoll, but even from this distance Miles could tell by the way the quarterback was running that it was Paul Ciampa. Paul was one of those kids who had everything. He was intelligent, he worked hard, he had 700s in the College Boards, he was captain of the football team. And he was polite, a really great kid. Quiet. Manly. Miles had passed him in the corridor just that morning and thought, If I'd had shoulders like that when I was in high school, I'd be Governor of Massachusetts today. He'd suppressed the thought immediately of course, because you didn't notice how kids were built ... even if you couldn't help noticing.
Down on the field, things were at a standstill. Coach was walking back toward the school, lurching from side to side as he went. What a mess he was. The team stood in a sort of loose huddle, just staring after him. Then the student manager blew the whistle and they broke up into two teams for more scrimmage. The manager's name was Billy Mack and he was one of those spooky kids Miles could never figure out. Miles had taught him English last year, but Billy had never responded. He played dumb, refused to do assignments, worked just hard enough to pass. In class he would stare at Miles with a kind of contempt, as if Miles and the books he taught were a trap. Silent, humorless, basically hostile, he chose to attach himself to a football team he was not big enough to play on. He put up with their ribbing and looked after their equipment and accepted their condescension as the price of belonging. But at least out on the field he kept them all under control, something Coach was never able to do. Every team needed a kid like Billy Mack. And God knows Billy Mack needed that team.
Miles walked back to his desk and began looking over Monday's assignment. Edwin Arlington Robinson. That was always easy. And fun. The kids liked the fatalism and the gallows humor. They were teenagers, after all, and they knew they would never die.
But he would die, Miles knew. He had no trouble imagining his death. He'd seen his father rot away with cancer, and now his mother and the slow torture of her dying. Death was nothing. He didn't care about death. It was dying that terrified him — the infinite patience with which God squeezed the life out of you.
Miles shook the thought away and concentrated on tomorrow's work. He'd start class with a close reading of "Richard Cory" to show them how it's done. Or "Miniver Cheevy." Or both, if he had time. He'd talk about imagery. The voice of the author and the voice of the poem. Irony versus sarcasm; they never got that straight. Ask them to speculate on the reason for Richard Cory's suicide. Ask about appearances and what they conceal. Ask if we really know our friends or only think we know them. An easy preparation. He went on to "Miniver Cheevy," reading the poem slowly, moving his lips, ticking off the lines they'd want to talk about.
He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
"What play are you going to do this year, Miles?"
Miles shrugged. In fact, because of the situation with his mother, he wasn't directing the play this year. He didn't want to talk about it, certainly not with Polcari.
"I'd like to try out this year. I don't know if I should, though. I don't know if I'd be good enough."
Miles put his glasses on and turned back to "Miniver Cheevy," determined to ignore him.
"How come you never became an actor, Miles? You could of, you know?"
"You could have. Not of."
"You could have. Why didn't you? I'd love to be an actor. I think you'd be great."
This is what pissed him off about Polcari: this smarm, this kiss-ass way of playing up to people.
"You still could be," Polcari said. "In the movies even. I mean, your looks ..."
"What are you doing here anyhow, Polcari? How did you manage to get double hours of Detention?"
"I cut gym."
"I cut it all week."
"And what else?"
"And most of last week."
"Jesus, Richy. Gym is part of the curriculum. You've got to do it, you know? You know that." Miles shook his head and went back to his book; he couldn't stand the creepy way Polcari was looking at him.
Polcari was a mess, and hopeless. He was tall and skinny, which was all right in itself, but he had all those loose feminine gestures, and that voice, and he went around practically begging to be friends. Any kid could see through that. They were scared and insecure; they protected themselves by calling everybody queer or fag, and mostly it didn't mean anything. But with Polcari, it did. The gossip was that he was a practicing homosexual and had been for years. Even his parents knew.
Polcari was quiet for a while and Miles pretended to concentrate on "Miniver Cheevy." He read it through again, but when he looked up at the end, Polcari was still staring at him in that puppy-dog way. It was a look of unabashed longing and Miles saw it for what it was. He felt a blush rising up his neck and then across his face and he felt simultaneously pleased and infuriated.
"Take off, Polecat," Miles said, slamming his book shut with a deliberate show of disgust. "You've suffered enough already today. And, Christ knows, so have I." He tried not to see the look on Polcari's face, but he saw it anyway.
Miles shoved his books into his backpack. He wanted to get out of here. He wanted fresh air. He wanted to run and keep on running until he was ready to collapse.
Miles pushed open the door to the faculty locker room and banged into Coach, who was on his way out. Coach stepped back against the wall, confused, and Miles closed the door behind them. The whole place reeked of booze. Coach looked at him woozily and then lifted his finger to his lips. "Shhh," he said. "I'm leaving a little early." His eyes weren't focusing.
"Jesus!" Miles looked around, but nobody else was there, and so he figured it was up to him. "Listen," he said. "Are you okay? Are you all right? Do you want me to drive you home?"
"I'm fine," Coach said. "I'm tip-top," and turned to go out. He tried to push the door open but it wouldn't give, so he pushed harder but it still wouldn't give, and then Miles said to him, "It opens in." Coach turned and looked at him and there were tears on his face. "Right," he said, and sat down hard on one of the benches.
Miles took charge. "Give me the keys to your office," he said, but Coach was bent in two, sobbing quietly, and Miles could see he'd get nowhere this way. He stepped out to the corridor and tried Coach's door. It was unlocked.
"Come on," Miles said, and he tapped Coach on the shoulder. "Come on. We'll go to your office and you can have a little snooze. A little lie-down. And then I'll drive you home. Okay? Come on." But Coach wasn't moving.
Miles tapped him on the shoulder again, and then shook him gently by the arm, and then shook him hard. Suddenly Coach came alive. "What?" he said. "What's the matter?"
"Take a snooze next door in your office and then I'll drive you home. Okay?" Coach just looked at him. "You can't drive like this. You don't want anybody to see you like this."
"Right," Coach said. "Right." He stood up and started toward the door. Immediately he stumbled against a bench and, trying to get his balance, he crashed into the wall. "Oh," he said, surprised, childlike.
Miles got one arm around Coach's waist and hoisted him up, but immediately Coach slumped against him and nearly knocked him over. He pushed Coach away and said, "Jesus. Come on. You've got to walk."
"Right," Coach said, and got himself together for a moment. His eyes focused and he draped his arm over Miles' shoulder and they started out of the room. By the time they reached the door, however, he lost interest and began to slump again.
But Miles had a good grip on him by now and there were only a few feet left to go, and he managed to half-carry and half-drag Coach to his office next door. He lowered the body onto the cot and then crouched beside it trying to get his breath. That Coach was one heavy mother. Miles left him there to sleep it off.
The faculty locker room and the boys' locker room were side by side, and so once he'd locked Coach's door, Miles took a peek into the boys' locker room to make sure he hadn't been seen — disposing of the body, so to speak. The place was empty. So the poor old bastard was saved once again. But, good God, he'd have to get his act together pretty soon.
Miles changed into a sweatshirt and running shorts and sat down on a bench to put on his sneaks — Nike Airs. The damned things had cost him seventy-three bucks. The boozey smell of the place was giving way to the smell of antiseptic filtering in from the boys' locker room on the other side of the wall. Miles hated that smell. He had always hated gym. He could just imagine what that poor schmuck Polcari went through twice a week. He shrugged and got out of the building, quick.
He did stretching exercises for a couple minutes and then took off down the main drive, away from the football field. The last thing he needed was some smart-ass linebacker whistling at him. And once you got kids in a group, they were capable of anything. When he jogged, Miles always stuck to the back roads as much as possible. He was too thin to be running around in gym shorts, he felt exposed, he just wasn't comfortable with bodies, his own or anybody else's. That's just how it was.
A car honked from behind and he edged over to the right, out of its way. "Miles!" they shouted, "Milo!" It was a bunch of kids in a junk convertible and they waved, shouting his name. He grinned and waved back and kept on jogging. Now that was nice. It was really nice. Kids were terrific sometimes. They liked him, the smart ones did, and even the others realized he liked them and wanted to help. He got on well with kids. When you thought about it, he was probably the most popular teacher in the school. Who'd believe it, he said to himself.
He had taught at Malburn High for eleven years and everybody called him Miles or Milo, faculty and students alike. He was popular, he was smart, he was funny. He said outrageous things that all the kids reported later at the dinner table. Parents never complained. Miles was a character, all right, but a wonderful influence on their kids. Even the English faculty, who disagreed about everything, agreed on Miles: he was a little bit eccentric, maybe, and always demanding, but God knows he did his job well. And certainly he loved the place. His wit had turned to irony lately, it was true, but that was because he had home troubles you didn't even want to think about: a father who had died a couple years back, a mother who'd been dying slowly ever since, and a girlfriend he couldn't marry until ... well, until his mother finally did it. Died. Milo had it tough. Endicott, the principal, was less quick to find excuses for Miles, with that sharp tongue of his and all that leftish talk, but he was impressed by results and Miles certainly produced them: his students worked hard, they scored high on the College Boards, there were no complaints from parents. All this was very good. Still, in Endicott's opinion, Miles bore watching. Endicott had been a captain in the Army before he retired and became an educator.
Miles had been jogging for twenty minutes and so far he had not succeeded in taking off. On his best jogs there was always a moment when his conscious mind gave way to his body's fatigue, and after that he was aware only of the pounding of his heels against the pavement and the shock of each footfall as it carried to his knees and his hips and shoulders; his teeth felt loose in his head and eventually he became immune to the pain, or one with it, and his mind went blank — he just sort of took off into space, above it all — and he could go on and on like this forever. But today he just couldn't get there.
His mind kept going back to that feeling he'd had all week, that everything was about to break apart. He'd experienced this feeling before, when his father died. And before his mother's collapse. And when he was first getting involved with Margaret. He felt that any minute his whole life might just break in pieces, crumble into dirt, and then he would look up and see they were all staring at him because he was exposed at last for what he was. But what was that? He didn't want to know.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "An Honorable Profession"
Copyright © 1991 John L'Heureux.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Miles Bannon is a successful English teacher, know affectionately as Milo by his students he is the most popular teacher in the school. But when a boys' initiation prank in the sports changing rooms goes wrong, it sets in motion a series of events that look to ruin his reputation and his beloved career. Miles does what he can to help the victim of the prank, but the boy, distanced by his father and initially withdrawn, develops a crush for Miles, leading to confusion for Miles, and eventually accusations of improper behaviour on his part.An Honorable Profession chronicles the events from the prank to the end of the school year and Miles' final realisations about himself. We follow him as he deals not only with the troubled boy and the rumours and accusations, but also his dying mother, his clinging and troubled girlfriend and the voracious Diane, who heads his English Department.It is a story of eventual personal triumph over adversity, and makes for a satisfying read. I found myself switching from admiring Miles to almost despairing for him when on the occasion he makes some less than wise decisions. But finally one has to admire him for coming through it all one way or another.