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Somewhere South of Here

A Novel

Somewhere South of Here by William Kowalski
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I'd wondered about my mother all my life -- what she looked like, how she smelled and sounded and acted. Lately this wondering had grown to encompass a curiosity about the kind of people she herself came from, because they were my family, too, after all, even though I knew nothing about them. I'd no idea whether they were loud or soft-spoken, funny or boring, preferred chocolate to vanilla, if they liked movies over books or the other way around. I wondered whether any of them had ever done anything magnificent in their lives, or if they were the kind of folks who were satisfied with just getting by. These things were important -- knowing them would help me to know myself, and the only way that would happen was if I went and looked for her.

With all his possessions on his motorcycle, Billy Mann sets off on a cross-country odyssey from New York to Santa Fe in search of a mother who deserted him long ago. What Billy discovers, however, is a life rich with possibility -- the chance for love, friendship, and, finally, a family to call his own.

HarperCollins; June 2009
304 pages; ISBN 9780061955914
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Title: Somewhere South of Here
Author: William Kowalski
 
Excerpt

Chapter One

The Eagle Dream

My name, for what it's worth, is William Amos Mann the Fourth, and I arrived in Santa Fe on the back of my steelgray 1977 Kawasaki KZ1000, bringing with me only what I could carry on the back of it: an antique typewriter, some books, and a few articles of clothing. It was then late in the summer of 1990. I'd just turned twenty years old, or so I assumed -- my exact date of birth, like my origins, was unknown, so my grandfather had had to invent one on my behalf.

Grandpa'd had to do a lot of things on my behalf over the course of my life; I'm referring to those tasks that normally fall to parents, of which 1 had none, due to the mysterious absence of my mother and the untimely death of my father in the skies over the South China Sea just before my birth. Grandpa was my sole caregiver, and a tough old shoe; I know from casual observation that it's not easy for two people to raise a child, let alone one, let alone an aging, lonely man who is too fond of the bottle, but somehow he pulled it off. He might have begrudged my very existence, interfering as it did with his plan of alcohol-induced suicide, but Grandpa was at heart a generous man, though I was one of only two people alive who knew it. He knew a considerable amount, although by his own admission none of it was very important; he'd concerned himself all his life with things that were mostly trivial and never applied himself to learning anything with any weight to it. That was why, in his own words, Grandpa was a failure at everything he did: he failed in business, he failed in marriage, and he even failed at fatherhood -- though that was not his fault. It was the fault of Vietnam. The only thing he'd succeeded at, in sixty-six years of living, was raising me.

Nevertheless, over the course of the eighteen years we were together as grandfather and grandson, he tried to teach me everything he knew, and not all of it was worthless. For example, he taught me how to read and write, before my existence was discovered by the county and I was forced to go to school. He taught me how to work on engines of both the motorcycle and car varieties. But most significantly, and probably because he thought he was doing me a favor, he taught me the entire history of my once-glorious family -- the Manus of Mannville, New York, who to hear him tell it were nothing less than a race of superpeople. Some of this was boring and some wasn't; I liked his war stories the best, but I could have done without hearing about how great we Manus were. All I had to do was look at him to know this wasn't true.

While not exactly up on the finer points of child rearing, Grandpa managed to see me through my childhood in one piece and, despite my disbelief in our greatness, to instill in me a deep pride in who I was. The only problem was that I didn't actually know who I was. That is, I didn't know who half of me was, the half of me that came from my mother; neither, for that matter, did Grandpa. I was delivered to him in a picnic basket -- a fact of which I was always slightly ashamed, until he reminded me that Moses had arrived in a basket, and so had numerous other notable persons throughout history. There was nothing to be embarrassed about; there was a fine tradition associated with baskets. This happened when I was only a few weeks old: my arrival, I mean. Presumably I was put in that basket by my mother, on that strange morning in 1970. 1 must have known her for a short time, but of course I don't remember anything from those days; and Grandpa never even got a glimpse of her as she dropped me off on the back steps and promptly fled the scene.

I'd wondered about my mother all my life-what she looked like, how she smelled and sounded and acted. Lately this wondering had grown to encompass a curiosity about the kind of people she herself came from, because they were my family, too, after all, even though I knew nothing about them. I'd no idea whether they were loud or soft-spoken, funny or boring, preferred chocolate to vanilla, if they liked movies over books or the other way around. I wondered whether any of them had ever done anything magnificent in their lives, or if they were the kind of folks who were satisfied with just getting by. These things were important -- knowing them would help me to know myself, and the only way that would happen was if I went and looked for her. Not to make accusations, but simply to find out, as I have said, what she was like.

And if, for some reason, she was no longer among the living, well, at least I'd have tried. That was why I finally decided to leave town, more than two years after my graduation from high school. I wouldn't regret having looked for her and failed, but I would regret it infinitely if I'd never looked at all.

I'd spent the previous two years saving money from my job as a delivery boy for Gruber's Grocery and General Merchandise, and also writing in my bedroom -- mostly short stories, but also a number of letters. I didn't show the stories to anyone, but the letters I mailed to an address in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I knew my mother had lived once upon a time, before I was even born. This address...

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ISBNs
0061955914
9780060084370
9780061955907
9780061955914
9780061955921
9780061955938