Have you ever dreamt of winning the lottery? Silly question, isnt it? Of course, you have, but have you ever thought about the amount of money youd like to win to make you and yours happy or, to take things further, that there may be a limit, that too much money could be - just too much?
Theodore Pappas and his two sons, 10-year-old Teddy and 5-year-old Tommy are on their way back home to a suburb of Chicago after visiting great-aunt Bess. At a filling-station Theodore buys a lottery ticket, something hes never done before in his life, he does it out of nostalgia for his wife who died in a car accident the year before, she used to always play the lottery but never win anything, Theodore, however, wins 190 million (!) dollars - and his and his familys lives change forever.
Aunt Bess moves in at once, the only person about whom can be said that she doesnt have selfish motives, she takes over the household and proves to be a rock in the oncoming storm despite being nearly 80 years old. Shes also the only one to keep the familys Greek heritage alive.
Next Frank appears, Theodores younger brother, a lawyer turned director of B vampire movie flops followed a short time later by Silvanius, his main actor who hasnt played vampires all his life for nothing, he looks like one. The last addition to the family, but not a live-in one, is Maurice, a black ex-football pro, whos been hired as a bodyguard to protect the boys on their way to school against possible kidnappings. Although they change their phone number several times, theyre flooded with calls from strangers telling the weirdest stories and begging for money, neighbours accost them directly, an oversexed divorcee suddenly discovers Theodores manly charm, the media pester them relentlessly - and what does Theodore do? Nothing, he keeps on working and living with his sons as hes done since his wife died.
This needs some explanation because hes not Mr Average American, oh no, hes a very rare specimen indeed. Hes 55 years old, a professor of history specialised in all things Civil War, what he doesnt know isnt worth knowing. Everyday problems belong to a world he doesnt understand, he hardly notices them, what has always been good doesnt need to be changed in his opinion. The house is small, uncomfortable and shabby as is his car and as are his clothes, but they still do, dont they? He doesnt allow his sons to watch TV programmes other than educational ones, they havent got any gadgets or gimmicks, even if he wanted to buy some for them, he wouldnt know what boys like nowadays.
We see him through the eyes of Teddy who tells the story, everybody says that he looks like his mother but he feels with and understands his father, theyre both extremely introverted and shy and like to withdraw into their own worlds, Theodore writes his articles and Teddy draws. Tommy hasnt come out of his shell yet into which hes hidden when his mother died.
Jim Kokoris has chosen a difficult way of telling the story in his debut novel: a grown-up describes the world as a child sees it. If a 10-year-old child told us the story indeed, we wouldnt want to read it because it wouldnt be coherent and the limited vocabulary would get on our nerves, if the author put too many grown-up thoughts or words into the mouth of the 10-year-old narrator, hed come over as unbearably precocious. Its a tight-rope walk and I think Kokoris has succeeded in finding the balance, I must congratulate him on his achievement.
The question what Theodore is going to do with his unimaginable wealth moves into the background as the story is unfolding but its always there and provides some kind of tension, but the real subject of the novel is the father - son relationship, the opening up of the elderly man who somehow realises for the first time that he is a father, that his sons problems are more urgent than the influence of the soldiers footwear on the outcome of the battles of the Civil War. Teddy understands his father instinctively and makes him happy by asking him questions about his favourite subject, his interest is feigned but he isnt false, he senses what his father needs and wants to make him happy.
Things could go on smoothly if Teddys biological father, a good-for-nothing hillbilly from Tennessee, didnt turn up, the news of the lottery win have reminded him of his fatherhood, a fact he had forgotten for eight years. He wants his son back together with a considerable amount of dosh which he thinks will come with him. Does the biological father have a pull on Teddy or is the soulmateness (?) he has with Theodore stronger?
And what about the money? Theodore does begin to spend some - what on you wont be able to guess. A blurb on the cover calls Kokoris a stunning new voice in comic fiction, I wouldnt label The Rich Part of Life as comic fiction, it has its comic moments but more of the smile and grin than of the laugh-out-loud variety, I wouldnt call the novel a thrilling read, either, but a well-written, feel-good novel about the relationship of people and how they cope with positive and negative catastrophes.
First published in October, 2002
Cover price 6.99 GBP