Excerpt from The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Sleeping Father

by Matthew Sharpe

The Sleeping Father
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    Oct 2003, 290 pages

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4.

Chris Schwartz entered American History at 9:22 a.m. and sat in the back corner where he hoped no one would see him.

He was still in his half-conscious youth. Sometimes he saw more than he was able to feel; sometimes he felt more than he was able to see; sometimes neither. During the course of any several minutes he could think of something important, forget it, think of it again, forget it again, his memory a short-circuited strobe light in the dark discotheque of his consciousness. So when his history teacher said, "Mr. Schwartz will begin class today with his oral presentation on, ah, Paul Robeson," Chris was both prepared and unprepared. He had been, American History to one side, a casual Robeson hobbyist anyway. He'd carried on an approach-avoidance relationship to the autobiography, Here I Stand; he'd rented and viewed The Emperor Jones and a few other Robeson cinematic vehicles; of an afternoon, he'd worried his Smithsonian Paul Robeson Anthology CD which, as luck would have it, was in his backpack right now. Chris fell into a reverie about the Robeson CD. The reverie, during which everyone in the class was waiting for Chris to talk or stand up, was interrupted by someone called Richard Stone, who said "Schwartz!" Chris jumped out of his chair.

Stone was a psychopath who had it in for Chris. He'd moved to town the previous year. Rumor had it that his enormously wealthy parents were bringing him up without love, that in the town in New York where he'd lived before moving to Bellwether, Stone had killed a kid by punching him in the face again and again, and that the Stones had purchased their son's non-incarceration, thus proving once again the terrible injustice of American so-called democracy and encouraging in Chris a fervent belief in the life and good works of Paul Robeson.

Tall, thin, stoop-shouldered, trembling slightly, Chris stood at the front of the room, facing his classmates. Fear mixed with passion and rendered Chris's mind—like the 3 by 5 cards on which he was meant to have written notes for his report—a perfect blank. Frank Dial entered the classroom, stared at Chris, and sat in the back. Chris said, "I'd like to begin by playing a selection from the Paul Robeson Anthology CD, available from Smithsonian records for $11.99 plus shipping and handling." Chris removed the CD from his backpack and took the portable CD player down from the metal filing cabinet behind his teacher's desk. He fumbled endlessly with the CD player's electric cord. "Excuse me, folks, I've never worked with a CD player before."

Richard Stone muttered a violent imprecation.

Chris said, "Hook up, hook up, the Zen thing always works for me." Not most, but a few of his classmates—the ones with divorced parents, or a live-in, senile grandparent, or a younger brother with leukemia—admired Chris's self-effacing irony.

Chris popped his Robeson CD into the player and programmed it for number 4, "No More Auction Block for Me." He figured that while the song was playing he could mentally assemble things to say about Robeson. What he didn't figure was that yesterday he had mistakenly put his Nirvana In Utero CD inside the Paul Robeson Anthology CD case, so when he pressed the play button, instead of Robeson's monumental bass-baritone, Kurt Cobain's plaintive, searing tenor emerged:

Rape me.
Rape me again.
Rape me.
Rape me my friend.
I'm not the only one.
Aaaaaahm not the only one.
Aaaaaahm not the only one.
Aaaaaahm not the only one.

"Oops, wrong CD. Which brings up an interesting point. We're all human, you know?" Chris asked, inadvertently looking into those little portals of hatred, Richard Stone's eyes. "Which was the main point of Paul Robeson's valedictory speech before the graduating class of Rutgers University, 1919, which meant he had the highest grade point average—a 97.5—of anyone graduating from Rutgers at that time.

From The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe - pages 3 to 16 and 22-30. Copyright Matthew Sharpe 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Soft Skull Press.

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