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The Revenge of Lester Salmanovitch

“Lester writes so well,” crooned Hetty Feinblum to Lester Salmanovitch’s mother, Selma. “I can’t say I understand all of it, but then you don”t need an education to tell that the boy has got it in him to be a famous writer one day.” She tapped the magazine in which a story by Lester had appeared under the title, ‘Do I not bleed?’ “You never know, ” she added. “The boy might be your ticket to a comfortable old age.”

“And pigs might fly,” retorted Mrs. Salmanovitch. “He’s never done a day’s work in his life. He spends all day on his computer doing God only knows what and he never stirs a finger to help out in the house. And do you think he will even make his own bed? You should see the chazerstal he lives in.”

The thirty-two year old boy in question sat gracelessly at the tea-table, munching his way through a high cholesterol pastry. He was used to hearing himself being talked about in the third person and his mother’s tirade was as familiar to him as the throbbing of one of his migraines. His father had long since given up on him and taken refuge in an apoplectic silence.

“I might as well be dead,” thought Lester. “It’s even possible that I am. In which case, this must be the station before Hell.” But he had no way of proving that. With no qualifications, no job, no money of his own and no confidence in his ability to survive independently, he saw no alternative other than to eke out a parasitic existence in the parental home. He languished most of the day in a state of inertia, like an elderly giant tortoise waiting patiently for the end.

To while away his time in limbo, Lester mused about the possibility of writing a novel. The trouble was that neither plot nor characters would come to mind. He had worked out that it would be a heavily autobiographical work, but so far his life had only served up a meagre portion of grist to supply his mill. He gazed at the computer screen, haunted by images of Snoopy at his typewriter endlessly trying out different opening sentences for his great novel. Finally, he shut down the machine and watched moodily as it flatlined.

Lester had never been a source of nachesto to his parents. An only child, born, he reckoned, on the planet Krypton, he had remained stuck in a telephone booth as Lester Salmanovitch, the kid who had only been put on Earth to disappoint his parents and the rest of the world. He was annoyed that his maiden story had somehow come to the attention of Hetty Feinblum, knowing that she would relay her verdict on his literary skills to her network of friends, along with his mother’s graphic account of his lifestyle.

While these thoughts were circling his brain, an idea slowly came to him. He would indeed write his life story, but he would present it as a work of fiction. After all, there was nothing in the rule book to bind him to the truth. Writing the book as a novel would free him up to characterize his life as a monument to harsh parenting. The distinction between fact and fiction would be blurred enough to ward off litigation, and the identities of his parents would be disguised, but transparent enough to those who knew them.

Warming to the task, Lester began to think how he might depict his parents in the worst possible light. Mentally, he chalked up their mean-spiritedness, their bourgeois values, their antiseptic cleanliness and their preoccupation with wealth and status. Above all, he brooded over their habit of making moral judgments about anyone who incurred their disapproval, mainly himself.

However, the thought of exhibiting his parents in the cold light of reality only made him more depressed until, like a flash of lightning, a new idea came to him. He would merely stand the truth on its head – instead of his mother being shown as a paragon of family life, she would rise from the pages as a Jekyll-and-Hyde character, a woman of easy virtue with decadent tastes and a penchant for multiple liaisons. His father, a reliable soul of charitable disposition, whose dedication to community and committee work had long ensured him a place in the hereafter, would be revealed as a brute, a secret drinker and a wife beater.

From this starting point, the narrative unfolded through a succession of secret relationships, lies, confrontations and acts of drunken violence culminating in a murderous assault. With fine dramatic license, Lester turned himself into the timid twelve-year old hero being buffeted between two immature parents, ultimately rescued only through the combined efforts of the police and social services. The novel ended with the boy wandering off, like Huckleberry Finn, into an uncertain future, leaving behind the wreckage of a broken home.

At first, Lester thought of calling his magnum opus ‘A Dog’s Life’, but the first publisher to reject his manuscript kindly pointed out that the title was misleading in that casual browsers would see it as a manual for dog lovers. Eventually, he decided in favour of ‘House of Secrets’ and renewed his search for a publisher. Seven publishers looked the other way but on his eighth attempt he hit the jackpot. Angela Mazzoni, a young woman not long in her job as reader for a publishing house noted for its list of lurid and sensational dramas, saw something special in ‘House of Secrets’ and pushed for its publication.

Ms Mazzoni’s judgment proved sound. The dust-cover was tastefully adorned with a color photograph of the Salmanovitch residence, separated by a jagged line from a photo of the local synagogue. “After all,” thought Lester, “buildings can’t sue.” An ironic dedication on the frontispiece read, “To my Mother and Father, without whose inspiration this book could not have been written.”

Lester felt a strange sense of liberation when the book appeared, which remained undiminished as knowledge of the book seeped into the local community. Nor was it dispelled when his father was hospitalized with a stroke or when his mother heaved his computer out of the window. He knew that he had finally met his parents’ expectations and that from now on, his life would change irrevocably.

About the Author
I was born in South Africa in 1940 and emigrated to the U.K. in 1970 after qualifying in medicine. I held a post as Consultant Psychiatrist in London until my retirement in 2013. I am the author of two books: one on group analytic psychotherapy, one on the psychology of the French Revolution. I have written many articles on group psychology published in peer-reviewed journals. From 1979 to 1985 I was editor of the journal ‘Group Analysis’; I have contributed short pieces to psychology newsletters over the years.
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