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Susan Patron and Stephen Kuusisto
The Higher Powers of Eavesdropping

Lucky Asklepios

The two books arrived today: “The Higher Power of Lucky,” by Susan Patron. That’s the one that has some librarians in a waddle of bands and boings over the word “scrotum” appearing on the very first page. And “Eavesdropping,” by Stepehn Kuusisto, which Ohdave wrote about affectingly this week. Both books are taking their place at or near the head of a very large cue here. I’ve already commissioned a review of “Lucky” from our twelve year old daughter (who turns thirteen today), possibly for the Notebooks (it has to be readable, grammatical and entertaining, I told her: her home-schooling has been, as you’d expect, her very own version of Gitmo). And ‘Eavesdropping” has already disappeared: Cheryl swiped it, though I just found it next to her, closed up again and preempted by a Frontline piece on meth. So: what is that first page like in “Lucky”? It’s one of those coincidences you won’t believe. But it’s true. The first chapter is called “Eavesdropping.” Steven Kuusisto would appreciate the conjunction, if not the tactile detail of the first three paragraphs:

Lucky Trimble crouched in a wedge of shade behind the Dumpster. Her ear near a hole in the paint-chipped wall of Hard Pan’s Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, she listened as Short Sammy told the story of how he hit rock bottom. How he quit drinking and found his Higher Power. Short Sammy’s story, of all the rock-bottom stories Lucky had heard at twelve-step anonymous meetings—alcoholics, gamblers, smokers, and overeaters—was still her favorite. Sammy told of the day when he had drunk half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all morning in his parked ’62 Cadillac, then fallen out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum. Lucky balanced herself with a hand above the little hole that Short Sammy’s voice was coming out of. With her other hand, she lifted the way-too-curly hair off her neck. She noticed two small black birds nearby, panting like dogs from the heat, their beaks open, their feathers puffed up. She put her ear to the hole because Sammy’s voice always got low and soft when he came to the tragical end of the story.

And on it goes. But so that’s it? That’s the scrotumization everyone is going stratospherical over? I remember reading on a librarians’ listserv a comment by one of those librarians, one of those middle-of-the-roadies who didn’t want to sound banishing but didn’t want to lose her job, either, by seeming to condone scrotums dangling between hard-covers in school libraries, that, well, Susan Patron didn’t have to use the scrotum imagery, that the dog didn’t have to be bitten in the scrotum. She didn’t specify, but I assume she thought the snake and Patron might have done better biting the dog, say, on the tail (hey, that would have had the added benefit of a subtle metpahor), on the ear, on the paw—anywhere but on the scrotum. Just as Melville could have called Ahab John and Philip Roth’s David Kepesh didn’t have to turn into a breast per se, but could have turned into, say, a foot. (I can see Roth reviving Kepesh for one last go at it, this time as a scrotum). Anyway, not nearly worth the fuss, although I’ll let my reviewer be the judge of that. And from “Eavesdropping? Let me cite “Subway,” on page 157, because it brings back fond and occasionally less fond memories of the Brooklyn subway I once, or rather a thousand times, rode:

New York: Number 4 Train to Brooklyn.

Woman with knitting needles.
“Nice dog,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“I had a dog like that once, but someone poisoned it.”
The train shuddered at a turn in the tracks. For a moment all one heard was protesting metal under the floor.
Then, again, the tick of her needles…

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