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His Illegal Selfby Peter Carey
Synopses & Reviews
There were no photographs of the boy's father in the house upstate. He had been persona non grata since Christmas 1964, six months before the boy was born. There were plenty of pictures of his mom. There she was with short blond hair, her eyes so white against her tan. And that was her also, with black hair, not even a sister to the blonde girl, although maybe they shared a kind of bright attention.
She was an actress like her grandma, it was said. She could change herself into anyone. The boy had no reason to disbelieve this, not having seen his mother since the age of two. She was the prodigal daughter, the damaged saint, like the icon that Grandpa once brought back from Athens--shining silver, musky incense--although no one had ever told the boy how his mother smelled.
Then, when the boy was almost eight, a woman stepped out of the elevator into the apartment on East Sixty-second Street and he recognized her straightaway. No one had told him to expect it.
That was pretty typical of growing up with Grandma Selkirk. You were some kind of lovely insect, expected to know things through your feelers, by the kaleidoscope patterns in the others' eyes. No one would dream of saying, Here is your mother returned to you. Instead his grandma told him to put on his sweater. She collected her purse, found her keys and then all three of them walked down to Bloomingdale's as if it were a deli. This was normal life. Across Park, down Lex. The boy stood close beside the splendid stranger with the lumpy khaki pack strapped onto her back. That was her blood, he could hear it now, pounding in his ears. He had imagined her a wound-up spring, light, bright, blonde, like Grandma in full whir. She was completely different; she was just the same. By the time they were in Bloomingdale's she was arguing about his name.
What did you just call Che? she asked the grandma.
His name, replied Grandma Selkirk, ruffling the boy's darkening summer hair. That's what I called him. She gave the mother a bright white smile. The boy thought, Oh, oh
It sounded like Jay, the mother said.
The grandma turned sharply to the shopgirl who was busy staring at the hippie mother.
Let me try the Artemis.
Grandma Selkirk was what they call an Upper East Side woman--cheekbones, tailored gray hair--but that was not what she called herself. I am the last bohemian, she liked to say, to the boy, particularly, meaning that no one told her what to do, at least not since Pa Selkirk had thrown the Buddha out the window and gone to live with the Poison Dwarf.
Grandpa had done a whole heap of other things besides, like giving up his board seat, like going spiritual. When Grandpa moved out, Grandma moved out too. The Park Avenue apartment was hers, always had been, but now they used it maybe once a month. Instead they spent their time on Kenoza Lake near Jeffersonville, New York, a town of 400 where no one lived. Grandma made raku pots and rowed a heavy clinker boat. The boy hardly saw his grandpa after that, except sometimes there were postcards with very small handwriting. Buster Selkirk could fit a whole ball game on a single card.
For these last five years it had been just Grandma and the boy together and she threaded the squirming live bait to hook the largemouth bass and, also, called him Jay instead of Che. There were no kids to play with. The
Brought up in isolated privilege by his New York grandmother, Che, a precocious seven-year-old boy, yearns for his parents, radical activists wanted by the FBI, until one afternoon, a woman claiming to be his mother arrives to help him escape, sending him on a bizarre odyssey that leads him to confront his life, his family, and his identity. 60,000 first printing.
Che Selkirk, seven, has learned about his unusual family from his teenage neighbor or from the whisperings of his grandmother, who raised him. It seems his parents, members of the SDS, are both wanted by the FBI. Desperate for his mother, he's ecstatic when a woman he assumes is his mother shows up at his grandmother's apartment and whisks...
About the Author
Peter Carey is the author of nine novels and has twice received the Booker Prize. His other honors include the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Born in Australia, he now lives in New York City.
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