Real Things was published in in 2008. In 2013 I published Part 1 of this companion and sequel, about 50,000 words, under the title Scoundrels and Fools. Now the complete novel is being published, about 80,000 words, for those who want to know how things turned out for Emmet, Phyllis, and those who were caught in their intertwined stories. As a teaser for you, here is the introduction to Part 2.
Editorial Note by Bill Thompson
The first sixteen chapters was the first-person memoir of Emmet Jordan, with supplemental material by Art Samson.
When Emmet discovered he had caused confusion by writing "Bill Samson" instead of "Bill Thompson" on the last page of the copies he left for delivery in Bowl City, it was the final embarrassment of the most excruciating month of his life. Whether or not it was a Freudian slip was never resolved. and it was too tender a subject to kid him about. He refused to continue the story himself but would remain a primary source if someone else wanted to pick it up. I took it on.
Discontinuing the first person narrative was a timely decision anyway. The story moves more and more beyond Emmet's immediate experience. Those who were part of subsequent events pooled their memories for me to produce the following account of the next three years.
In Chapter 15 Emmet had raised the question of whether I had written Real Things, the privately circulated story of my father's family. He never followed that up by asking me whether I had. It's time for me to own up.
I wrote Real Things in the summer vacation between my junior and senior years at Brighton College. I lived with Grandma in Brighton during the school year, and with my parents in Marshall during the summer.
The events in Real Things ended with my grandfather's funeral the week before Thanksgiving in 1982, when I was a freshman at Brighton College. Brighton was the city where my grandparents, Lloyd and Margaret Thompson, raised their family of four boys and one girl in the 1930's, 40's, and 50's. The venerable house on Hackberry Avenue is still in the family and where JoAnne and I live today. My father went to Yale from here, but Uncles Mark and Paul stayed at home and attended Brighton College.
I had surprised everyone, including myself, when I entered the competition for the Willoughby Scholarship at Brighton College. I got my application in at the deadline and won.
After my first required year in a dormitory, I asked Grandma if I could live with her for the rest of my undergraduate education. She looked at me hard then, a look my father describes as "x-ray eyes" whenever he remembers being nailed by it. She was seventy-seven when she nailed me but her vision was still twenty-twenty. She spoke just two words: "My rules." I took her cue by answering "Yes, Ma'am," whereupon she sealed the deal with a broad smile and a hug.
My parents didn't object to my living with Grandma and sleeping in the bedroom that had been my father's, though the move evoked envy from older cousins who wished they had thought of it. They knew I hadn't manipulated Grandma, though; all her male descendants learned before their fourth birthday that it was impossible for us to that. My moving in may even have been her wish before it was my idea.
We weren't alone in the house during my college years. After Grandpa's death she had kept the live-in couple she retained when Grandpa became too ill for her to care for by herself. The couple kept the house and yard for her and shopped from the lists she provided, freeing her to return to her church and community volunteerism by the time I joined them. She prepared the main meal at home most evenings because everybody including herself preferred her cooking. Occasionally she told me I could bring a couple of friends for dinner, and I spread that privilege around by never asking the same friends twice. It made me a popular guy on campus.
After a year of mourning for Grandfather, in the second year of my stay with her, she was named state mother of the year. All of her descendants returned to Brighton for the celebration, which was an enormous banquet in the Great Hall at Brighton College. It was hosted by her unpoor children and was event enough for the state governor, a political protégé of my Uncle Dan, to serve as toastmaster.
It was at brunch the morning after the celebration, when her descendants were crammed into her large dining room, that she asked me in front of them all to write the book that became Real Things. She encouraged my aunt and uncles to share their memories with me, along with my parents--Dad especially, because it was essentially his life that made the story worth telling. When I had a lot more than enough material, I wrote with the godlike perspective of a novelist, intuiting emotions and filling the blanks--all the while terrified of getting it wrong.
But the family accepted the final product. I especially treasure what Uncle Paul said. He cited Huckleberry Finn's assessment of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: "There were some stretchers in it, but mainly he told the truth."
Emmet Jordan is not in Real Things. He and my father were boys together at Bible Camp in the early 1950's before the continuous story of Real Things begins. When Dad and Emmet finally got together thirty-five years later, Chris Samson, who is in both stories, loaned Emmet his copy. While Dad's public life is readily available in various reference books, Real Things focused on his private life, which was unknown to Emmet except for their brief camp encounters.
I have shared this background as an apologia for the manuscript you hold in your hand. I knew what I was doing when I picked up Emmet's story because I had written my father's. The people in Emmet Jordan's story deserve to know the whole story, not limited to their own part in it. That's how we felt about Dad's story.
Emmet was not physically present in many of the events recorded in this final part of the book, but without him there would have been no story to tell.
From here on "Bill Thompson" becomes a character in a story, as he was in Real Things. In that book he was a boy; in this one he is a man.
The College Church, Brighton, July, 2013