Sherri Velliquette: and Then There Were Five
An Author in Our Ranks
Our very own Jimmy Razor just published his first novel under his given name, James E. Hutter. Dear friend and honorary Molar Pete Vogel wrote a review of this literary effort.
Just The Normal Abuse is a novel about Jim’s fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Wagner (his name was changed for privacy’s sake). Mr. Wagner was a tortured, creative, talented and frustrated artist/teacher who preyed on his students for various reasons. At times his antics were quirky and hilarious, other times heartbreaking. The role of a teacher in the ‘70s was far different than today’s politically-correct environment; teachers were cops as much as instructors. All of us who grew up in that era can recall a teacher who was emotionally and/or physically abusive—I went through 12 years of Catholic schools and could easily rattle off a half-dozen teachers who wouldn’t survive in today’s climate.
The ‘70s education system was far different than today’s—many aspects of our culture were severely lacking, especially regarding the education of children. Jim reminisced about the harsh treatment he and his classmates endured by Mr. Wagner. Some of the abuse was meant to humiliate an individual in front of his/her peers, other times it was because Mr. Wagner had a warped view of humor, justice and authority.
“You inconsiderate, ignorant, selfish, lazy, stupid, insolent, moronic PIG! You don’t want to learn. You only said that because you’re afraid! You only come to school because you’re afraid of the manin that little tan car, the truant officer! You know your parents will whip your little behind if you play hooky!”
One child in particular—Delbert Muntz—was endlessly ridiculed by Mr. Wagner. He called him “Del Butt” and ripped up his artwork in front of the class. He also compared his brain to a grain of puffed wheat: “Kind of looks like your brain, Muntz.” While classmates laughed at the ridicule, Delbert Muntz was sullen and depressed by his being tormented by his teacher.
Mr. Wagner did all sorts of things to belittle his students: from poking fun of their names to calling troubled students “pieces of trash” to openly ridiculing them in front of the class. At times Mr. Wagner’s tirades were amusing and charming—other times they were downright cruel. The author does a brilliant job of portraying an emotionally-challenging rollercoaster ride through his fifth and sixth grades.
Taking inspiration from James Thurber and Frank McCourt, Hutter does a splendid job of painting a picture of what life was like in the working-class neighborhoods around German Village. That area was quite poor in the 1970’s, and Jim had to endure many hardships—not just at school but at home. His only sibling—an older brother nine years his senior—became a role model to him because of his emotionally distant parents. In many ways, Jim’s brother became a father figure to his emotionally-stunted sibling. Many passages of the book detail the hardships of a distant father and emotionally unavailable mother. Jim had nowhere to turn.
This book is a real page turner—its brevity (110 pages) makes for a quick and easy read. But I have to admit it’s heartbreaking in the same way that “Angela’s Ashes” is heartbreaking. To endure a hardscrabble life on the south side of Columbus was a harsh, bitter pill to swallow. Many of his classmates never even made it to middle age without the long-term effects of mental illness, drug abuse, alcoholism and death. Poverty, loneliness, cruelty and neglect were secondary characters in this character-laden novel. It’s definitely given me a newfound respect for the hardships that many people endured in rough neighborhoods like the south side of Columbus. I grew up in the UA bubble, and even though we had similar challenges, they were far easier to endure than the abject poverty on the south side of town.
I sure hope this is the first of many books from Mr. Hutter. He has one quality that any writer could ever hope for: an eidetic memory. Jim remembers the smallest details about much of his past, a past riddled with pain, frustration and angst. I hope he decides to share these thoughts and feelings with his audience, because voicing these hardships is a way to overcome them. It also unifies those with similar stories as well. I find it especially important to document these types of experiences for the world to better understand what goes on inside our heads and hearts. Every one of us is living out a novel that is yet to be written—Jim has definitely inspired me to reflect on my past and come to terms with it.
Consider me a fan of the author James E. Hutter. I hope you will give him a chance as well. Congratulations, my friend.
Copies may be purchased through Lulu Press. It may be necessary to copy and past this link into a new browser.