Author: William Peter Blatty.
Genre: Fiction, mystery, fantasy, religion, historical fiction, bildungdroman.
Publication Date: November, 2010.
Summary: New York, 1941: Joey El Bueno is just a smart-aleck kid, confounding the nuns and bullies at St. Stephen’s school on East 28th Street when he first meets Jane Bent, a freckle-faced girl with red pigtails and yellow smiley-face barrettes who seems to know him better than he knows himself. A magical afternoon at the movies, watching Cary Grant in Gunga Din, is the beginning of a puzzling friendship that soon leaves Joey baffled and bewildered. Jane is like nobody he has ever met. She comes and goes at will, nobody else seems to have heard of her, and is it true that she once levitated six feet off the ground at the refreshment counter of the old Superior movie house on Third Avenue? Joey, an avid reader of pulp magazines and comic books, is no stranger to amazing stories, but Jane is a bewitching enigma that keeps him guessing for the rest of his life — until, finally, it all makes sense.
My rating: 6/10.
♥ Afterward, I did what I usually do, which was to go to the public library and just sit there in the dustless quiet where the air had this pleasant, friendly smell of damp paper and warm, dry thoughts and I'd read comic novels by P. G. Wodehouse and anything fantastic and out of this world, which I was getting an inkling was the place to be.
♥ Though we talked about other stuff too. Sometimes scary kinds of stuff. Like God. Like what if God hadn’t created the worlds and there was absolutely nothing in existence, which discussions were always pretty short, I’ll admit, since almost immediately at this thought our puny minds would short out and sort of gasp and want to throw up amid a shower of crackling electrical sparks like a couple of stymied headhunters happening on the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. Yet we still smelled the perfume when a pretty girl walked by.
♥ Though as a matter of fact I was fond of the jerk. Being both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, plus a touch of Trabb’s Boy in Dickens’s Great Expectations so relentlessly and quirkily deviling Pip, he had what most of us lack, which is vivid life, which I practically certain beat vivid death, most especially when these scientists were constantly scaring us by insisting “vivid death” was where the universe was headed…
♥ But then who knows? It could even be Eddie found out what we’d done and was slyly and secretly eating his cookies as he showed us that revenge is a dish best served not only cold but maybe endlessly as well.
♥ “Come on, you thinking very hard, Joey. Tell me what about.”
I said, “Homework, Pop.”
What should I have said? I see the future? There are lies that don’t exactly rend the fabric of the universe.
♥ I said, “Pop, do you pray?”
He was hoisting the Schlitz to his lips when he stopped and looked across the little table at me. “Do I pray? What kind of question, Joey? Yes. Yes, I pray. Not with words. With my heart. Be always good to people, Joey. That is prayer.”
♥ ...right afterward I’d coughed up a shiny new dime to get into an exhibit called “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” where I wound up goggle-eyed watching magicians who did stuff that I thought was impossible, which at the time I thought was good, but then afterward thought was bad, for what I wanted was a world with order and complete explanations for everything in it.
♥ “Remember that time you were five years old and you found a nickel and a dime in the street in the middle of some thrown-away Ald Landon buttons you picked up because you liked the cheery sunflower on them? You remember what you did then, Joey? You remember? You ran to the five-and-dime,” she said, “to the Woolworth’s right across the street and you bought a little penknife for your father, a tortoiseshell hair comb for your sister, and got nothing for yourself. You remember?”
My God! She knew everything!
I looked out at the ocean.
“Yeah, I remember,” I said.
“And how did you feel that night, Joey?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “I guess happy.”
“Was it happy like eating ice cream or even seeing Gunga Din?”
No, it wasn’t. It had filled me up completely.
Her little eyes were flitting back and forth across my face, and she said, “That right. When the ice cream and the chocolate are gone, all of that kind of happy goes with them. That’s the difference. The other kind of happy stays. So as long as you can smile or say a kind word to someone, you can never run out of giving, which means you can never run out of happy.”
♥ “...Maybe heaven and hell are the same place, Joey. If it were a restaurant and everything they served had lots of garlic, if you love the taste of garlic it’s heaven, but if garlic makes you vomit, it’s hell. Life is learning to develop a taste for what heaven’s got to offer, and then growing that taste to the max. You know, ‘soul formation’? That’s really just learning how to be happy, which is learning how to love, really love, which is by giving. And then maybe, Joey, one day we’ll both be in heaven eating blueberry pie with chocolate ice cream and knowing that we’ll never run out of either one, which is just a way of saying we’ll have a happiness we know won’t ever end. That’s the world that you’ve got to be in training for, Joey, and you get there like Kurt Vonnegut says, which is, “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
♥ It seems a brand-new “thing” among feature film directors was to shoot an expository scene in a men’s room with at least one member of the cast shown standing at a urinal. This was somehow supposed to make the scene feel “real,” as if the audience didn’t know they were watching a movie and not a live sumo-wrestling match. The vogue had started almost two years before with only one actor wizzing and always with his back to the camera; but when that setup got old, the shot escalated to a tighter angle and more to the side, not the actor’s back, so you could see the “set dressing” flowing down the urinal wall, this progression, and the shot itself, to be seen one day in retrospect as the start of “slippery slope” for movie restroom scenes, for when even the close side angle shot became a movie cliché, another director upped the ante to two actors wizzing at once, while yet another drove the bidding up to three and a virtual pissage à trois that for a time no one imagined could ever be surpassed for its sheer bravado and joie de uncouth until someone thought of showing an actress wizzing, driven by some primal and apparently irresistible force of nature, soon after came the shot with the leading actress wiping, the expectation being nothing could be more real than that and never mind that the shot had not the slightest thing to do with either the character or the plot.
♥ Much later in life, perhaps even more useful than these “arguments from reason” that a benign and staggering intelligence had something to do with the creation of the universe, was the time I heard the wonderfully talented standup comedian Richard Pryor say on stage with both medical accuracy and from a legendary personal experience, “You know, when you’re on fire your skin goes to sleep.”
Figure it out.