Excerpt from Spectacular Happiness by Peter D. Kramer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Spectacular Happiness

by Peter D. Kramer

Spectacular Happiness
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2001, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2002, 320 pages

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When I phoned, Sukey picked up on the first ring. Is that you? she said. I just saw your boy on television.

Me, too, I said. How did he seem?

You at sixteen.

Did he look thin?

Not a bit of it. Your spitting image. Wouldn't have surprised me if he'd jumped off the screen and tried to shanghai me up to the attic.

Sukey was speaking my mind. I have always considered your resemblance to me uncanny. I once heard on the radio -- I caught only the end of the story but I believe I have it right -- that a child who looks decidedly like a given family member may resemble that relative in talents or temperament, that external appearance provides a fair sampling of the ways the genes express themselves. Overidentification was a word the court psychologist used in the custody evaluation; she said I exaggerate what you and I have in common.

That remark caused me much soul-searching. But on seeing you again, I find my opinion is unchanged. You do have my manner. The shyness, the hesitancy, those are me. Sukey is right, I was wiry as a youngster.

I never shanghaied anyone. That was a little joke. It was Sukey who dragged me to the attic. I will write about that incident in time. I will set down everything if there is time.

Shanghaiing is a concern, I said, believing Sukey would know what I meant. Now that you have been located, you may be in danger. You are in Milwaukee, the reporter indicated. Living in a neighborhood of substantial houses, judging from the background you were shot against. Even in this era of ubiquitous trophy homes, how many such neighborhoods can there be in Milwaukee? I suppose you will be safe while the press keeps an eye on you. But when their attention flags?

Sukey and I talked on about how it was to see you, how a thirty-second video clip enriches and impoverishes the imagination. I wanted the conversation to flow naturally, without rapid changes in topic. After a couple of minutes, I declared myself. I said: Sukey, I need to ask a favor. I'm hemmed in here, by cops and reporters and rubberneckers. I wonder if you could bring by a few bags of groceries.

That is the code we had arranged. If I wanted to sign on to Sukey's next plan, the plan for me to appear in public, I was to ask for groceries.

Sukey suspects the phone is tapped and the cottage is bugged. For important communication, we use key words. Repair means to install explosives. Astonish indicates a project has come to fruition. When a house has been blown, I may phone Sukey and mention that I find this or that news item astonishing. Groceries means a new phase of the Movement.

Sukey said, I imagined you might need groceries. Is that all? Do you want company? I can bring round some friends.

No need to involve others, I told Sukey.

She had in mind a media event, I suspected, a parade of well-wishers to give visual confirmation to the claim that I am a regular guy. I have resisted the temptation to engage in conventional publicity. I believe our success to date is due to our invisibility. To what the old anarchists called propagande par le fait. Letting the explosions speak for themselves. Sukey has said that in the end human faces are always needed, faces and words. She tends to be right. I hope she is right now, that if I break my silence, there is a chance of keeping you safe, even bringing you home. Safe home, most desired of endings.


By home, I mean the cottage where you spent your early years. I believe you found it cozy. I did, and do still. But a person can feel exposed on the bayfront.

Your mother never adjusted. She complained of the freight-train sounds of the north wind on winter mornings and the stink of rotting shellfish at ebb tide on summer afternoons. Sometimes I think she left the marriage because she could not bear to live on this sandbank, and she could not bear to ask me to live anywhere else. I would have moved, of course, would have done anything for her and you.

Copyright © 2001 by Peter D. Kramer

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