Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Thick As Thieves" by Steve Geng

This is one of those books that was kind of gazing at me from the library shelf, as if asking me to pick it up. I did. The first line got me hooked right away. "Winter in Philadelphia, 1946." That's all it took for me to take this one home. I have a weakness for books about the years I grew up in when told from the perspective of someone a few years older than myself. It helps explain some of the things which I witnessed, but did not understand at 4 or 5 years old.

Steve and his sister Veronica are the children of Colonel Geng, a career Army Officer. His assignments take them to Italy, Paris, New York and then Florida during the late 1950's and 1960's. It was a time of experimentation for the whole world. Mr. Geng and his sister had a front seat to some of it.

But lying beneath the surface is a hidden, dysfunctional family. The Colonel is rigid and unyielding with his children. He is their father but never manages to become their Dad. With his unrelenting sarcasm and lack of faith in his children,he kind of reminds me of my own father.

The two children deal with things in very different ways. Veronica hides in her world of books and freinds. Steve gets high and begins a life of "boosting", which consists of going from town to town and shoplifting large quantities of merchandise from shopping malls. As his drug use increases he takes larger risks to support his habit.

Veronica goes on to become a celebrated author at The New Yorker during the 1980's and Steve eventually goes through a stint in the Army, a term in jail, a couple of re-habs and then down to Florida to help care for his dying father. It is through this relationship, caring for the man he once despised, that he comes to terms with his demons and reconciles his life.

He also becomes involved in local theater groups and goes on to star in several character roles on "Miami Vice." Through his years of drug use he contracts AIDS. Through a twelve step program he learns to deal with both.

When his sister passes away at age 55, without his knowing she'd been ill, he starts to fall apart. The theater helps him deal with her loss. And in the end it all comes together with the realization that we are all simply who we are. Even the ones that hurt us without meaning to. We're all human, and all imperfect. That's the lesson that we all need to learn, that before we can forgive ourselves, we must forgive the others.

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