Rich Part of Life: A Novel

Rich Part of Life: A Novel

by Jim Kokoris

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Rich Part of Life: A Novel by Jim Kokoris

After Teddy loses his mother to a car accident, he and his young brother are left with their eccentric Civil War professor father, who is more able to discuss Confederate footwear than his sons' day at school. But Teddy's father plays the lottery with his wife's old numbers, and wins $190 million, immediately transforming their lives forever. For the first time, the family must learn what "the rich part of life" really is. Creating the perfect balance of humor and pathos, Jim Kokoris takes us on an unforgettable journey through the ups and downs of this revelation of unexpected wealth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312300708
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 05/16/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 557,332
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.76(d)

About the Author

Jim Kokoris lives in the Chicago area with his wife Anne and their three sons. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. The Rich Part of Life is his first novel. Jim's humor has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend, The Chicago Sun-Times and Reader's Digest. He is currently at work on his second novel.

Read an Excerpt

The Rich Part of Life

By Jim Kokoris

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2001 Jim Kokoris
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7643-5


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 securely fastened?" my father 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.

"Tommy's too?" 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 Shiloh 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 jutted out in a way that incorrectly suggested confidence and pride. Leaning 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 mothers.

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 Hail 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."


We were rich in a way that I couldn't understand. My father didn't seem to understand it either for he went about his daily business of researching the Civil War with a heavier than usual grimness, a silence that deepened as time passed. Weeks went by and still he did not claim the ticket.

From time to time, news of the lottery would filter into our house, overheard bits and pieces from the television and radio discussing its size and speculating why the one winner who had purchased the ticket on the Illinois–Wisconsin border was not coming forward to claim the winnings. My father instructed me several times not to discuss the lottery with anyone and the unusually urgent and direct way he asked me ensured my silence and kept me from asking too many questions.

One night though I could not resist. "Are we going to get the money?" I asked as he passed my doorway on his way to his study.

"Yes," he said. Then he said, "I have to organize things first though. I have to take care of some things," and was gone.

As the days passed, I felt a growing excitement, a low heat simmering that warmed my skin, making it jump and tingle. The lottery and its mysterious winner were chief topics of conversation during those late summer days at my school, St. Pius, and my heart would leap forward whenever I heard it being discussed. Theories on why no one had claimed the ticket ran from the absurd (an alien had purchased the ticket) to the possible (the person had died immediately after learning he or she had won). My father, neither an alien nor completely dead, kept mum on the subject.

One day after school, I went up to my room and began making my List of Things, items I wanted our family to buy when my father finally did get around to claiming the ticket. While I was old enough to recognize that we already lived comfortably, my father was a professor at a major university and had written a very successful book on the Civil War, I wanted things that only the lottery could buy.

My list started slowly and predictably, with the usual computer games and art supplies such as paints, markers, colored pencils, easel topping it. The list developed a momentum of its own, however, as I progressed, expanding in different directions. Three new television sets were added since our old Zenith (bought, according to my father, when Richard Nixon was president) provided an unhealthy, greenish tint to every scene. I thought we could replace the Zenith in the family room with one of the new sets, then put another new television in my room and the third in my father's room. The Nose Picker would get the old Zenith since he was still too young to realize that people's faces weren't necessarily the color of peas. I also included a VCR since I was sure we were the last people in America who did not own one, a fact I kept hidden like a rash.

Three new bikes were then added, one for the Nose Picker and two mountain bikes for me. I reasoned I should have two bikes in the event one was lost, stolen, or forgotten in a place that was inconvenient for me to retrieve.

I then added a large farm in Wisconsin. When we visited Aunt Bess in Milwaukee, we would sometimes drive up to Green Lake, a resort town an hour northwest for lunch or dinner. It was during those drives that I would admire the numerous farms we passed, their bright red barns and gleaming white silos clear and clean against the pure blue Wisconsin sky. I was particularly impressed with the size of the farms, their wide rolling expanses wrapping around the earth, hugging its edges. I thought we could use such space. I imagined idling away long summer vacations riding horses and fishing in our own private lake surrounded by gentle black-and-white spotted cows and salty but kind hired hands.

I next addressed our car, the old Buick forged, I believed, by ancient Egyptian slaves during the completion of the pyramids. It was so old that even my father, a savant with dates and presidential administrations, was unclear on its birth, saying it fell somewhere between the Ford and Carter administrations. My list replaced it with one of those sleek and sporty red Jeeps that filled most driveways in our neighborhood and I imagined my father, the Nose Picker and me riding high up on its leather seats, darting through the streets of Wilton with a precision and authority that always seemed beyond us.

Finally, I added a new house. Our brick two story colonial was in definite need of replacement. The upstairs shower leaked through the kitchen ceiling and during the spring, the basement flooded, forcing us to roll up the carpets and place important items on tables and couches away from the swamp. Our furniture had a respectable but faded look and smell about it that reminded me of the public library. The couch in the living room had two small puncture holes in it, the result of the Nose Picker sitting on it with a pencil in his pocket, and our small, round kitchen table was unbalanced, tipping unevenly from one side to the other whenever we ate.

Nothing would be unbalanced in our new house. It would be sturdy and bright with large windows that would let the light in at all angles. My bedroom would be spacious and airy with a skylight that would allow me to feel the sun in the day and study the stars at night with the aid of a high-powered telescope that would lower automatically with a quiet hum from a concealed compartment in the ceiling. My bed would be a water bed, I decided. Though I had never laid on one, or for that matter, even seen one, sleeping on water was an exotic notion that appealed to me. I also thought my room should have a small refrigerator, something in which to store my Cokes and 7-Ups, and a small robot to serve them to me while I gently rode the waves of my bed searching for undiscovered and unnamed galaxies.

I was sketching out additional details of the house when I heard footsteps approaching on the hallway stairs.

"Teddy?" It was my father, standing in my doorway, looking like a distant constellation. "Teddy, please get your brother. I was unable to find a sitter so I'm going to have to take you with me downtown now. We have to do something," he said and then he was gone.


Excerpted from The Rich Part of Life by Jim Kokoris. Copyright © 2001 Jim Kokoris. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

Reading Group Guide

After Teddy loses his mother to a car accident, he and his young brother are left with their eccentric Civil War professor father, who is more able to discuss Confederate footwear than his sons' day at school. But Teddy's father plays the lottery with his wife's old numbers, and wins $190 million, immediately transforming their lives forever. For the first time, the family must learn what "the rich part of life" really is. Creating the perfect balance of humor and pathos, Jim Kokoris takes us on an unforgettable journey through the ups and downs of this revelation of unexpected wealth.

1. Theo can be a reclusive and emotionally cut-off person. Discuss whether you think that he has doubts about keeping Teddy; remember he is being asked to raise the child of a woman who is going to divorce him.

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"?

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Rich Part of Life 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
yourotherleft on LibraryThing 1 hours ago
This book has a bunch of serious themes but Kokoris handles them with a light touch, filling his book with humor and successfully making use of a child narrator - which is a rare feat. The Rich Part of Life is filled with quick and unexpected jokes such as Teddy imagining french fries frying in his friend's greasy hair or referring to his younger brother as "the nosepicker." But amid all the laughable situations that arise from the winning of the lottery, a lot of serious ones arise, too. Kokoris brings to life Teddy's father who struggles under the burden of his unexpected windfall as all number of people seek him out to solicit money and someone else shows up with even more sinister motives. By the end, I found myself rooting for this lost family to find itself amid the chaos of winning the lottery, and I wasn't disappointed.
jo-di More than 1 year ago
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.
kkkimba More than 1 year ago
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.
pjpick More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book.. there's a comment that it's similar to early John Irving, and I agree -- if you like John Irving, you'll definitely like this.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.