Damaged heroes have had a prominent run. This phase may be ending, or it may be I have found a way to avoid most of them. Protagonists cannot be bland, but do we really need another alcoholic hero?
Nick Forte was my response to this. In his first book, A Small Sacrifice, he’s not damaged, but he’s bruised. His life is progressing along a not unacceptable path, he’s gotten over his wife throwing him out, but still has yet to find what he considers an adequate way to remain as much of a father as he wants to be. Each book juxtaposes his relationship with his daughter, Caroline, against what is driving Forte deeper into himself, and how she becomes his connection to the man he used to be—and still wants to be—more all the time, as well as his awareness this is too great a burden to place on a child, even if she is unaware of it.
Here’s the reader’s introduction to Caroline, and how Nick feels about her.
Seven year-old Caroline Forte had lapped the field as the most distinguished accomplishment of my thirty-eight years. Tall for her age, straight blond hair shifted a notch toward light brown every year. Her eyes had done the same, quicker. Never baby blue, charcoal gray for six months until they morphed into copies of mine. She had the healthy skinniness kids that age can have, more than skin and bones, no fat.
She chose Fuddruckers at 75th Street and Lemont Road for dinner. We always sat in the glassed-in seating area off the main dining room so Caroline could watch for Volkswagens and play the Putt Bug game. She ordered a kid’s burger, disappeared it under tomatoes and pickles, and ate enough to fill a bottle cap.
Eating a meal with Caroline was a non-linear experience. She wanted to talk more than eat. I wanted to listen, but I didn’t spend enough time with her to follow a conversation that ranged from recess to her cousins to school friends to a dog to what she saw on television three days ago. Somewhere in there I needed the lowdown on school and what else was going on with her she might not think to volunteer. I started with school.
“Did you have science today?” I asked while she pushed pickles back into the bun opposite the side she bit into.
“I think so.” She took a big bite of her burger. Half of what was left fell onto the plate.
“You’re not sure? Did you do anything that sounded scientifical?”
Chewing now, slow as ever. Being required to talk didn’t move things along any. “Is space science?”
“Yes.” Progress! “Space is science. What did you learn about space today?”
She drank some of the Coke-Sprite-iced tea concoction she mixed for herself at the fountain. It had to be swallowed with the same care as the food. “Planets.”
“Any one in particular?”
“All of them.”
“What about the planets?”
“Well, they go around the sun, and there’s like, seven or eight of them. Does Earth count?” I nodded. “Then it’s eight.” She slid a French fry around the glob of ketchup on her plate to draw a smiley face.
“What would you like to do after we eat?” I wouldn’t get any more school scoop for the time being. I’d sneak arithmetic in later.
“Can we play ball?”
Caroline had taken an interest in baseball this spring and I jumped on it like Paul Konerko on a hanging curve. I even bought her a genuine Alexei Ramirez glove, the Missile being the closest thing to Ozzie Smith or Bill Mazeroski on the White Sox roster. We’d oiled it and tied a ball into the pocket on our previous weekend together. “I thought you might want to throw the ball around today. Our stuff’s in the trunk. We’ll go to the park, after you eat.”