|THE RICH PART OF LIFE|
by Willard Manus
Jim Kokoris, a young Greek-American writer, is enjoying enviable luck
with his first novel, THE RICH PART OF LIFE, a cautionary tale about the
impact of too much money on the Pappases, a family living in a Chicago
suburb. Published by St. Martin's Press, the book has not only received
excellent notices and sold well, but has been optioned by Hollywood for
a forthcoming feature film.
The money has come
to the Pappases in an overnight windfall worth 190
things," says Aunt Betty, a woman who never made
Theo is a mystery, not only to Teddy and his six-year-old brother Tommy, better known as the Nose Picker, but to just about everyone who knows him, including his brother Frank. Frank, a lawyer turned Hollywood producer of sleazoid horror movies, is especially horrified and mystified when Theo shows no joy upon breaking the bank.
If anything, Theo becomes more withdrawn and cautious; it's almost as if he's lost, not gained, all that money. Frank, who has had to flee Hollywood leaving a trail of bad debts and busted promises, can't believe that Theo wouldn't at least trade in his old clunker for a new car, preferably a Lexus.
Frank and Theo may be brothers, but they are opposites. As cold, cautious and retiring as Theo is, Frank is loud, flashy and volatile. He chalks up the difference between them to Theo's inherited Greekness. "By nature, Greeks are a depressed people," he tells Teddy. "We worry about everything. We're not all Zorba."
Kokoris goes light on the Greek details, though, using them to merely spice the main dish. Aunt Bess occasionally speaks to Theo in Greek, but there is nothing very ethnic about either of them.
Identity does not concern Kokoris, just the agony of overnight wealth, which he treats in largely comic fashion, employing a deadpan humor which makes for steady chuckles rather than big boffo laughs. Kokoris' most flamboyant character is Sylvanius, a Bela Lugosi-like actor who achieved B-movie fame by playing Dracula in Uncle Frank's movies.
Uncle Frank, Aunt
Betty and Sylvanius try their best to help Theo cope with the bizarre
problems his much-publicized new wealth bring. Suddenly a voluptuous blonde
down the street has the hots for him, the local school begs him for a
new furnace, poor people beseech him for handouts, ill people for medical
treatment, scam artists and hustlers for "business" loans.
As he tells Teddy, "I feared this from the start. The moment I won the lottery, that was my fear. That's why I almost didn't claim the ticket."
Teddy struggles to cope with a new set of realities. Not only does he learn shocking things about his father but his mother too, that she was a go-go dancer and a bigamist, a wild, rebellious woman who died a self-inflicted, horrific death just before she was about to divorce Theo.
The second half of
THE RICH PART OF LIFE deals with Teddy and Theo's
The story, which has moved slowly until now, picks up considerably, shifting first to Manassa, Virginia where a reenactment of the Battle of Bull Run finds the Pappases taking part, with Theo strutting around in a Stonewall Jackson uniform, the two boys dressed as Confederate drummers, and an Abe Lincoln lookalike singing "Old Man River." It's first-rate satire.
Kentucky and Memphis
also figure in Act Two, which not only becomes
THE RICH PART OF
LIFE focuses mainly on what happens between Theo and Teddy, a father and
son who, despite all the upset and black comedy,