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Valiant, He Endured: 17 Sci-Fi Myths of Insolent Grit (There Will Be Liberty Book 2) Kindle Edition
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I was surprised to find several of the stories more appealing than I’d expected (since I’m not a fan of this genre of writing.) Of those, “Conformity is Mandatory” by Jonathan David Baird definitely stood out as very entertaining. That said, I am more of a standard-fare fiction fan, so my favorite story in the book was “Icky” by Frank Marcopolos.
While I don’t consider myself a literary critic by any stretch of the imagination, I do a fair amount of fiction and non-fiction writing and at the very least know what I like when I read it. Now that I have disclosed that qualifier, I’ll give my thoughts on this gem of a story.
I’ve read most—probably all—that Mr. Marcopolos has published so I’m relatively familiar with his writing style. One of the things I often enjoy about his narrative is how he portrays his fiction in a poetic way. It’s not that his language strives to be flowery, rhythmic, or even overtly attempts to pull at one’s heartstrings. It’s more a romanticized way of viewing the world and the way he brings even the mundane to the front with heart. Further, he weaves the struggles of his characters’ human condition and how they react and respond as the story unfolds with such vulnerability and compassion that I find myself not just sympathizing for them, but actually empathizing. So often, his characters are facing existential dilemmas and their choices, like most people, are more heavily weighed upon by insecurities and the struggles to overcome the influences and conditioning derived from their past.
In this particular story we see Enzo, a popular character whose story unfolds across various stories by Mr. Marcopolos, facing a choice. This is a choice he is making which has a great deal of importance. He must determine whether or not he will leave behind his pregnant girlfriend to pursue his chances at a larger university—a move that would increase his chances of going to the big leagues in baseball. The struggle to make this decision is weighing so heavily on him that one of his teammates, Semzy, helps convince him he needs a spa weekend to get a great massage and to relax. At this time, he ponders if Jesus ever needed a spa weekend. This alludes to how Enzo felt like an outcast like Jesus must have.
In the scene at the spa hotel, he and his mom’s boyfriend or new husband (we don’t know which), Leonard, have an exchange about a painting of a Greek legend, Icarus, in the hotel room. The two exchange some banter about the painting where it comes to light that his father, to fly out of a prison they were in, gave Icarus wings. Despite his father’s warning not to fly too close to the sun for fear his wings would melt the wax holding them on, he ignores his dad. In rebellion, he flies too close to the sun, which led to his demise.
Recognizing the undertones in the story as Leonard trying to dole out fatherly advice, Enzo states that it’s a good thing Leonard isn’t his dad. Immediately thereafter, Leonard weighed in that if Enzo chooses Cortland, it would be his demise. While his opinions are less than welcomed by Enzo, he manages to keep their exchange civil, though Enzo does make a point to refer to Leonard as a liar for keeping the truth of his father’s suicide from him. This news had been recently revealed to him, adding to his stress mound. The reference to the painting and the “father” (Father/God) theme will surface again later in the story. While the conversation unfolds, Enzo carefully (but with the mirrored defiance of the Icky rebellion) unpacks his clothes into the hotel dresser, putting his t-shirts on the top and socks on the bottom.
The scene closes with him carefully unpacking his rosary and hanging it on the corner of the Icarus painting. It is noted that it swings like a pendulum several times before finally settling into place. This represents how Enzo himself felt hung up and swinging between one side of his difficult decision and the other. Just as the rosary moved from side to side, he too teetered between choosing fatherhood and responsibility to something greater than himself versus changing schools in pursuit of his personal dreams. He handled the rosary with care as if seeking divine guidance from his father.
The next scene opens with Enzo in a room awaiting his massage. Just before the massage therapist enters the room, Enzo notices a pool through the open blinds and sees a young child alone in the pool. He notes that she seems too young to be unaccompanied by a parent. The masseuse, Cristy, enters the room and introduces herself.
When Enzo sees her, he notes that she is blonde and attractive and not manly at all as he’d expected a massage therapist to be. She’s wearing a white sundress, which could represent her purity. She has her eye make-up done in a winged fashion making further reference to her angelic-like purity. He is nervous and doesn’t know if he’s supposed to stay partially dressed or get naked, etc., and asks if they can just chat for awhile. Note his shame in being naked as he chooses to leave his underwear on. She eases his mind and agrees and he starts to open up to her. During the exchange he expresses that he’s been under pressure about a decision surrounding baseball and that his parents are on his case about it. They are weighing in to try to influence him to do what they want him to do as are others in his life. This depiction articulates an undercurrent of his struggle with the concept of “free will.”
As they are talking more about what is causing him distress, he begins to unload about his feelings and starts to feel vulnerable. Immediately following this revealing of emotions, he notices that the child in the water is struggling. He runs out of the room and rushes to the pool to rescue the child. As he reaches the pool, he’s shocked to see that there is no child in the pool, nor is there even a child or anyone else around. This shakes him up so much that he yanks off his cross necklace, and tosses it in to the pool. Merely wearing a cross necklace is no longer enough. He then grabs a small stone and brands himself in faith by carving a cross into his arm He proceeds to strip naked (as Adam in Eden), jumps into the pool, and sinks to the bottom. Once at the bottom, he relaxes and allows himself to be consumed by serenity until being yanked out of the water by his “angel,” Cristy, who metaphorically “saves” him.
This part was the strongest section of the story in my opinion. When he started to feel himself open up to the masseuse, his defenses fading, he became painfully aware of his vulnerability. This triggered his inner child to cry out in a panic. The drowning child in the pool, of course, was that inner child, though he did not realize it. The haunting of that child who didn’t seem to really have existed, as if she’d been a ghost (in effect a ghost of his own past) scared him into turning to a higher power. We see the God theme resurface when he engraves himself with a cross, strips himself of his worldly clothing, and shamelessly jumps in the pool. This act represents a baptism or sorts—a cleansing—which I thought was brilliant.
Once out of the water, he’s reminded of his nakedness and shame and tries to cover himself as Leonard enters the final scene eating an apple (another Biblical reference to Eden, and the apple representing “knowledge”) as though he was completely in the know about “Icky,” as he refers to Enzo. Leonard attempts to basketball-style shoot the apple core into the trash but lacking athletic talent, misses. We end with it rolling under a fake Mediterranean Cypress tree for the perfect ending to this religious, metaphor-rich story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story and look forward to many more by Mr. Marcopolos.