Monday, July 7, 2014

Beneath the Weight of Sadness excerpt by Gerald L Dodge

In Gerald L Dodge's Beneath the Weight of Sadness, Truman Engroff, a gay, seventeen-year-old boy, living in an affluent, New Jersey town, Persia, is brutally murdered one early Sunday morning. The murder becomes sensational not only for the fact that Truman is gay, but because the town is peopled with mostly wealthy conservatives who view anomalous lifestyles as a disruption to their strict view of how the world should function. The death of Truman's brief life is told in four separate narratives, by: his father, his mother, the detective investigating the case, and his best friend growing up, Carly Rodenbaugh. All four of these people are devastated by Truman's death, and the story of his death unfolds as the characters tell the story of his life.

Beneath the Weight of Sadness
Untreed Reads Publishing (June, 2014)


My son was murdered on a Sunday at approximately three a.m. My son, Truman, was gay. I remember walking to get The Times on Sunday morning, before I was told about his murder, and remarking to myself how blue the sky was. Like on many days in New Jersey after a heavy rainstorm, the clouds had moved out and the March morning was breezy and brilliant. Most of what happened after the two cops arrived at our house has been erased from my mind, but I often think of walking to get the paper, before I knew that my son was dead, and feeling happy I was alive and living where I was living and loving the woman I had loved for twenty years. I suppose I remember that part because it’s in such severe contrast to what entered my life a few hours later, when I learned that my son had spent the night lying facedown in mud, beaten so I could only recognize him by his soft blond hair and his lovely long hands.
We didn’t name Truman after Truman Capote. It wasn’t some self-fulfilling prophecy, or anything like that. My grandfather’s name was Truman and I loved him as much as I’d loved my two parents. And he was the farthest thing from gay. He was a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army. Truman, Amy, and I had decided never to tell my grandfather our Truman was gay. We worried he wouldn’t understand. As Truman put it, “I don’t want Papa’s heart to give out.” But I did tell him after Truman was gone. We were at the funeral, and when he saw my searing look after I divulged Truman’s homosexuality he only bowed his head and wept. 

As soon as the cops pulled into our driveway I knew Truman was dead. I know that sounds…what, like I’m claiming psychic powers? Like a grief-stricken father rewriting history, because it offers the possibility that my Truman is in some other dimension, some heaven where I will once again see him, his face whole, his body not brutalized? No. The cop car pulled into the driveway and a terrible panic rose up from my legs and arrived in my heart at the same time the doorbell rang. I knew Truman wasn’t home and he was supposed to be, and I knew why cops came to the doors of worried parents. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. We were always fearing the worst for a son who was an anomaly in a town ruled by white Republicans. By people who raised their children to believe in easy answers for the world’s complicated problems. There was no room in their universe for gay people, and especially gays who, like Truman, were not afraid to announce themselves.

Amy was in the back of the house drinking an afternoon white wine and reading the parts of The Times I generally horded earlier in the day. I can still see her on the chaise lounge, tender feet curled under her legs, knees exposed by the first summer dress she’d worn in the early spring season. We’d made love the night before, knowing Truman would come home late and probably high, and when I passed by the terrace shortly before the police came and I glanced at her exposed knees I could still feel the throb of the sex we’d had the night before. 

Both the cops were young. Rookies were mandated to do the dirty work of telling loved ones about death. When I looked out the window next to the front door, I saw they both had their hats tucked under their arms in an awkward attempt to signal respect and somberness. 

I’m sure when they were at the police academy they didn’t envision informing parents from an upper-middle-class neighborhood that their seventeen-year-old son was dead. Still, it was just part of the job, and one they could soon walk away from to return to the land of the living, something Amy and I have not yet been able to do. And then, too, when they pulled onto the property with the high ilex hedges bordering the front and London Plane trees leading up the driveway and gardens spilling out into the front lawn and a lone patio with benches for relaxing and having a pre-prandial drink, perhaps they were thinking we deserved some heartache. 

Of course, I wasn’t thinking any of those thoughts at the time. It was only afterward, when I couldn’t sleep and I had to slip quietly out of bed and go to the kitchen and down two large glasses of bourbon whiskey, that those thoughts and others that still haunt me every night began to take form, and I began to believe them.

I opened the door and they stood there almost expectantly, as if they were the ones who’d received me. Neither of them was sure how to begin. 

“Are you Mr. Engroff?” one of the officers asked. 

I nodded. I did not offer them entrance. The one who had sandy blonde hair, and a face much too young for this particular duty, deftly produced a light brown square. 

“Sir, we’re sorry to bother you, but we need to ask if you recognize this…” 

It was Truman’s wallet. I’d given it to him when he turned fourteen, half expecting him to toss it somewhere. I worried that he would consider the rite all Engroffs performed to signify passage into manhood trivial and hollow. But he’d carried it daily, and to see it in the hand of some stranger made me react almost violently. I wrenched it from his hand and both of the officers stepped back.

I opened it and looked inside to see if there was something missing, though I wouldn’t have had the first idea what that missing something would be.

“This is Truman’s wallet. Where did you get this?”

They looked at each other and then the one with the blonde hair said, “Is Truman your son?”

“Of course he is,” I said. “Where is he? Where is Truman?”

They moved back another step in unison, perhaps fearful of what people of privilege might do when they learn their son is dead.

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AlanChinWriter said...

Interesting. I like the voice/cadence. I can't help thinking that it would be much more powerful if the author would delete the first few sentences, and everything saying he was dead, until that last, wonderful line. Keep the reader wondering. I also think deleting the word Beneath from the title would make it more powerful. "The Weight of Sadness" is a title I wish I'd thought of.

Well done.

Jay Hartman said...

Hi, Alan!

Thanks for the feedback!

We definitely didn't want a soft opening to the story, and as the book develops you'll see that the father being abrupt and upfront is part of his personality and kind of defines who he is.

"Beneath the weight of sadness" is actually a quote that's made a few times in the book, and it's helps to make the distinction between feeling the general weight of sadness (depression) and what it's like to be buried under it so deep with no way to claw yourself out.

Hope you'll give the whole book a read!

Jay Hartman
Untreed Reads Publishing

Lloyd A. Meeker said...

Definitely works for me the way it is. Knowing up front what the tragedy is gives more dimension and emotional mass to the scene, imho. The narrator is a man drowning in grief. No "wondering" needed for this reader.

The structure of the book sounds interesting, too, with four different experiences of a single event.

Gerry Dodge said...

Thanks so much Alan and Lloyd for your comments. To Alan: There is a kind of lunacy involved in the death of a child for his parents, and I wanted that to be clear at the outset. Ethan and Amy are overcome with grief--"drowning in grief"--as Lloyd so accurately suggest. I hope both of you read the entire novel. I will anxiously await your comments.

My very best,

Gerry Dodge