The Story of Harold

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Between 35 and 40 years ago I first came upon this novel, by Terry Andrews, and found it fascinating. Many people wouldn’t care for it, since it deals with sex (a lot of it gay), and with the 3 intimate relationships the narrator has. He also has a lot of casual sexual encounters, which seems a bit odd, since he makes his living by writing children’s books. If anyone bothers to visualize what a writer of children’s books is like, that probably isn’t it.

Some research suggests that the actual author of the book was George Seldon, who did indeed write children’s books (and this book does seem autobiographical), who died some 15 years after the book was published. According to Amazon “Terry Andrews” never published anything else, and the fact that the book was very well-written suggests that he was a published writer in some other genre, so Seldon seems to be a plausible candidate.

At the beginning of the book, the narrator says he has decided to die, but never makes it entirely clear why he feels that way. He describes his relationships with his three love interests. Two are men, one a woman. One man is a doctor, married, and with a number of children. He invites the narrator to a family celebration, where he’s a hit, because he’s written a very popular children’s book, The Story of Harold, which the children all have read or heard, and like.

Harold lives in New York City, as does the narrator, and is a bit of a busy-body, trying to fix things for people (people including toys, a moth, clothes, etc, Harold being a magical personality, though his magic is limited. Of course this is the kind of thing children like, and the stories connect him to a little boy, who is deeply depressed, son of one of “Terry’s” acquaintences. The boy seems to be depressed because his mother is getting ready to remarry, and he’s almost entirely shut down. Except that he likes stories about Harold. Terry takes him for a walk, and having discovered that’s what he likes, makes up a story for him on the spot. The little boy is thrilled, and Terry begins making a regular thing of seeing him and telling him more Harold stories. At first it’s not something he wants to do very much, but he feels sorry for the boy (perhaps identifies with him?) and hopes to teach him  how to get along in the world through the stories.

Of course that’s not the whole story. “Terry” is involved with another man too, this one a person who fantasizes about dying in a fire. Which he wants Terry to light. Terry says he will, figuring this will be a good reason to commit suicide, and if suicide is your goal, that certainly seems plausible.

The woman is someone he met at the opera, and she’s a very wholesome sort of person. Terry is less interested in women, and she doesn’t play a huge part in the story, but she’s at least a benign presence.

Jim, the married man with the children, is the one Terry is in love with, and since Jim doesn’t reciprocate, this is the most obvious cause for his suicidal feelings. But I suspect there’s more to it than that.

Doing a Google search, I came across a lot of reviews of the book. Most of the reviews were positive, so I was drawn, out of curiosity, to the one I found that was negative. That one was by a woman who had enjoyed Seldon’s children’s books, but found this novel hard to take. She saw Terry as oscillating between being giddy, and deeply depressed, and she found his worldview extremely weird. Fair enough. The narrator isn’t exactly the All-American boy. But that gave me a clue.

I don’t know if I’m right about this or not, and probably never will know. There are probably still people around who knew George Seldon, and whether or not he wrote this book, besides what sort of person he was, but I doubt if any of them will be talking to me, though I’d certainly like to learn more about him, if any of them would care to. My theory is bipolar disorder. Yes, the tone of the novel does oscillate, and the narrator drinks a good bit, as well as taking various drugs. All that seems to fit with such a diagnosis, as, according to my understanding, people with that disorder tend to self-medicate.  I know a couple of people who are bipolar, and they’re not a lot like the narrator of the novel, or even a great deal like each other. Still, I think that may be where the feelings in this novel came from.

The story, of course, continues. The narrator experiences a deep depression one night, after trying to give the boy he’s trying to help a good momory to hold on to, and in the morning, feels as if he’s come to a different part of his life. And all this time he’s been telling the boy stories, basing them on the boy’s life, as well as his own life with his friends. The stories have evolved into a series, and Terry has put a lot into them to make them reach the boy.

Meanwhile, the boy’s mother has decided to marry the man she wants to be her next husband, and the boy is about to move out of the city with them. So Terry tells the boy one last story, just as they’re getting ready to leave, sizes up the new husband, and is encouraged by what he sees. He then tells the man who wants to die in a fire that he can’t do that, and wants the man to live. Jim, the man who won’t love him in return, also refuses to end their friendship. Nothing is certain about the ending, but things seem pretty positive.

Schematic

A man tangled up

In biology, family, orientation…

A rebellious man,

Trying to break free,

But still enclosed in something

That gives him little peace.

So he self-medicates,

Which only works awhile,

Intermittently,

And comes to the conclusion that life must end.

Just why isn’t entirely clear.

His life has strange juxtapositions.

He writes books for children,

But claims not to like them.

He is bisexual, inclining more towards men than women,

And sadistic, in a moderate way, towards men.

Knowing that about him,

What parent would buy his books?

He has interesting figures he indentifies with:

Harold, who fixes people (inheritance from a doctor father?),

The Rat, who carves a father’s attention, and is unhappy

(A reason for becoming gay?),

Rumpelstiltskin, who tears him(self) apart.

And then there’s the Three-Legged Nothing,

Which kills and eats people,

Or itself.

A portrait of his family, from which no light emerged.

Opposed to that dark triune star are his three loves:

One man, who wants to be killed by him,

Another man, whose love he wants most,

And a woman.

Is she the lover and mother too?

At least she provides some comfort,

But not enough to heal.

Something like salvation comes from outside these trinities

In the person of a boy who needs desperately.

A portrait, perhaps, of his younger self,

Someone he feels compelled to love unselfishly.

Emotions surge, and finally break into flood,

Washing him into a new country that looks the same.

He can’t possess the boy,

Nor can he let him be swept away.

“Let him grow, let him grow,

Grow beyond me, if need be…”

He cannot kill,

Which was to be the key to his suicide.

He can’t escape the man (and his family)

Whose love he probably misinterpreted,

Preparing himself to die

For a faulty definition.

So, he decides,

Living is inescapable.

Beyond his artificial trinities

Stand the forces of reality,

Which his trinities may personify.

The positive, the negative, and the force that reconciles.

What names do you wish to call them?

The traditional names are most recognizable,

Though we may not be sure just where they fit.

After all this, years later, the author dies (if it WAS him)

Hemorrhaging.

We don’t know in what context,

We don’t know in what spirit,

We don’t know what example he was meant to set,

We have only vague ideas who he was,

And how we are related to him,

Other than being human.

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