Book cover of 'The Laments'
Former screenwriter George Hagen talks with NPR's Scott Simon about his first novel, The Laments.
The book follows the members of the Lament family as they seek out a way of life in Africa, England and finally suburban New Jersey during the 1960s and '70s. Their comical adventures are loosely based on Hagen's own family travels as he was growing up.
The Laments Book Excerpt
When Mr. Wallace asked for an explanation of the events of 1776, Will's hand shot up. But another boy in the front row, Ernest Woodbine, caught his attention.
"The British were imperialists, Mr. Wallace... "
Ernest spoke only to Mr. Wallace. This was probably shy he was dismissed as a teacher's pet by his classmates. He was frequently afflicted with nosebleeds and often found his bootlaces tied together when he stood up from his desk. Will nicknamed him Scabby because his eyelashes were perpetually crusty from pinkeye, and depicted him in his notebooks as a naked cretin licking Mr. Wallace's boots.
"They oppressed the colonists with taxes and precip..." Scabby paused. "Precipitated a conflict."
The other kids also hated his big words. But this was Scabby's lucky day. He might have been a bootlicker, but he wasn't a foreigner.
"Just a minute!" said Will.
"And, sir," Scabby continued, "they forced the colonists to stage uprisings that led to the Revolution."
"Yes, Will?" said Mr. Wallace.
"Forced them? They wouldn't pay taxes," Will argued. "Was the British army supposed to serve the colonies for nothing?"
"Unfair taxes, sir," corrected the bootlicker.
"Taxes that paid for the soldiers who kept the peace," argued Will.
"An oppressive army of redcoats, Mr. Wallace," added Scabby. "American wanted freedom, justice, liberty —"
"Freedom? They were free!" argued Will. "They just didn't want to pay their taxes!"
Suddenly blood began pouring from Scabby's nostrils. Quickly he reached for the massive box of tissues inside his desk, clamped a wad to his nose, and, with a dramatic gulp, attempted to speak.
"Mr. Wallace? I don't believe my ears. Is he calling the Founding Fathers cheapskates?"
Until now, a bluebottle fly had distracted most of the students with its drone as it looped around the fluorescent lights. But all seats creaked forward on Scabby's cry. You could almost hear the fife and drum start up in the room. Mr. Wallace cast a troubled glance at Will.
"I don't think we need to insult the Founding Fathers, son," he said.
"I wasn't insulting anyone. All I said was that is was about money!"
"It was about liberty," blubbered Scabby through a wad of crimson-clotted tissue.
"Go back to England!" shouted a wise guy in the back row.