[This excerpt is taken from a long book review of my writing teacher’s last novel. The book review is entitled “Lester Goran’s Last Song.” If you would like a PDF copy of the book, you can email me at daniellclausen [at] gmail [dot] com ]
Everything Right and Wrong, Pittsburgh 1968
It’s 1968, and one Daly “Right” Racklin, the second Right Racklin, has been told that his heart is failing and that he probably has less than a year to live. Daly is a lawyer, a do-gooder, a local legend to the people of the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Oakland is as right and wrong as it ever has been. Things are changing, and as Daly walks the streets he finds much to reminisce about — a love song to a bygone time, even as he has to deal with the struggles of the present.
“Is that about right?” I ask Lester.
“Keep going, kid. I might not get another review of this book in my after-lifetime, so you better finish this.”
This place and time, Pittsburgh 1968, is one that is real, thick, and alive. But it’s not necessarily a place for outsiders. In fact, it can be rather cruel to outsiders. For anyone who has dropped in on this universe before, one that revolves around the Order of the Hibernians, Number 9, better known as the Irish Club, you’ll know that the place is a rich tapestry. There are hints and winks and subtle innuendos that will leave readers baffled. Just as a character who makes his way to Oakland from New York will have a rough time, if you’re not a hardy reader, in for the long haul, then you’d better scram.
“Geez, tell me what you really think?” he says. “But you speak the truth. Go on, go on.”
“The only other thing I was going to say was that you obviously cared about the characters and this universe you were creating”
“You should tell them what happens in the book.”
There is not one plot element, but a series of interconnected events that make up the last year of Daly “Right” Racklin’s life: his failing heart; the checkered legacy of his father that includes an inheritance he may or may not live to collect; the various characters he helps in his role as lawyer and champion to the poor; the poor girl Michelle Shortall whose insides are hardening (turning to stone) and her visions of Daly’s father; and the various machinations of his sister Ruth Marie and the femme fatale Gloria Scone. This world, with its many strings and histories, flow through Daly as a living memory of Pittsburgh.
He doesn’t look impressed. “You should’ve written sitcoms!” he says.
I can’t tell whether this is a compliment or an insult.
“To sitcoms,” I say. I raise my glass and take my first drink of something. It must be a gin and tonic, even though I usually just drink beer.
I tell Lester, as I sit with him in one of the old pubs that dot Oakland street in Pittsburgh, that his book is about fathers, sons, and legacies. Daly Racklin is trying to come to terms with his namesake and the idea that perhaps his father and he are not the people they think they are. The first Right Racklin leaves Daly with two mysteries. The first, when he is younger, is a conspicuously small sum of money. When he is older, 50, his father leave him with another conspicuously small sum that was charged to a disreputable lawyer — who had at one point a large sum but lost it all. Why his father had such a large sum and had entrusted it to an unsavory type is the mystery.
Lester starts in on a little chant. “Sons and fathers, fathers and sons. Oh what fun it is to be in love. But here I am, in a bar stool in France, and of all things, I’ve forgotten my underpants.” And with that, he takes another long drink and starts on “Oh Danny boy.” “Oh Danny Boy, Oh Danny Boy…”
Did Lester ever have kids? I can’t ask him because he’s just some figment in a bar made up of scraps of memory.
What is Lester drinking? Beer, scotch. How little I know about this person. I’m still waiting for something. The bar where we sit, some dive in Oakland, perhaps a shadow of the old Irish Club, is filled with smoke and lounge music, and I lose the thread of the story.