Cover image for Goose music : a novel
Goose music : a novel
Horan, Richard, 1957-
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First edition.
Publication Information:
South Royalton, Vt. : Steerforth Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
264 pages ; 22 cm
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The World's Room explores one family's experiences with grief. When Erich, the 17-year-old son of Willy and Lorna Hoffman, commits suicide in 1969, his younger brother asks to serve his memory by taking on his dead brother's name. Told two decades later by the surviving Erich, the book, written in memoir style, is the true story of that renaming, and of how the love for the missing can replace the love for the living. Covering ground from New York to Venice Beach, from central Wisconsin to central Mexico, from Boston to Miami, The World's Room is at once interior and sweeping.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ted Hoffman's family is splintered, and dysfunctional is not a strong enough word to explain the reason tragedies unfold, adults act like children, and children fail to grow into real adults. Ted asks to be called Erich, after his brother, the real Erich, who committed suicide at age 17. While Ted/Erich willingly assumes his late brother's persona, he fails to see the toll it is taking on him and his sister. It also allows his mother to continue living a delusion that she is fine, her family is fine, and that life will get better--as long as she keeps them on the road and continually uprooted. Meanwhile the most distant family member, their father, Willy, tries every now and then to bring order to the family chaos, but mostly he is ineffectual. Each of the three sections of this memorable first novel is marked by the death of a family member, the tripartite story taking readers on a dark and darkly amusing journey into the scars left by a troubled upbringing. --Marlene Chamberlain

Publisher's Weekly Review

"When my brother hanged himself in a shower stall at St. Elizabeth's, I took his name," writes Erich, London's teenage protagonist, by way of introduction. Composed as a memoir in three parts, this tragic family drama is told with sarcasm and poignant honesty. In the summer of 1967, Lorna, a willful, needy bohemian, takes her three children and leaves her husband, Willy, a Columbia philosophy professor, to crisscross the country in search of new careers, men, religions, collectibles and whatever else strikes her fancy. "Our journey," Erich recalls, "finally read like a monitor that charts the heart rates of patients in a stress test: up, down, across, up, up, down, across, down, down." Erich's sister, Deborah, distances herself with hippie boyfriends and immersion in various religions. Erich's brother, Erich the original, "real" Erich takes his own life. Endowed with his brother's name and dark legacy, Erich grows up with his identity in quotation marks, "on leave from the world between lives." London an award-winning theater critic has a magnificent sense of character and ear for dialogue, each family member captured succinctly and naturally via small gestures, grand rants and vivid soliloquies (considering his sister's wedding cake, Erich observes, "In the middle rose a white plastic pedestal, on which kneeled two figurines, a bride and a groom, heads bowed in prayer or thanks or, just possibly, despair"). This engaging and crafty debut establishes London as a writer to watch. (May) Forecast: Those who enjoyed Mona Simpson's Anywhere but Here or Martha McPhee's Bright Angel Time will appreciate this similarly themed tale from a male perspective. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

After his revered brother, Erich, commits suicide, Theodore Hoffmann takes his name with his family's tacit acceptance, becoming Erich to such a degree that he surrenders a substantial portion of himself. Set against a backdrop of late 1960s to late 1980s America, London's first novel is Erich/Teddy's fictional memoir, following his life from age 12 through college and beyond, moving from Venice, CA, to Madison, WI, to Boston and New York. An "impressionistic family archive," as he terms it, the book records a series of losses, first of his parents' marriage, then Erich's death, and later the deaths of his grandparents and parents. While this bittersweet tale of love, loss, and identity may be what Erich/Teddy calls "the kind of collage that memory, imagination, and twisted feeling assemble," it's one that will linger long in the reader's mind. Recommended for most public libraries. Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One MY BROTHER'S NAME When my brother hanged himself in a shower stall at St. Elizabeths, I took his name. My family, with only slight hesitation, called me by the name I'd chosen. We all behaved as if nothing unusual were taking place. No one openly expressed concern, disapproval, or fear, though all these feelings ran on currents under their conversational voices. I listened at once to both registers, attuned as I had always been to the harmonics of the family distress. I absorbed their uncertainty through my skin. I was twelve then. Now, sixteen years later, I still go by the name of Erich.     No one who knows me now would doubt that Erich is my name. It's been the name on my license and my leases. My family -- what's left of it -- gives no indication of remembering that I was, from birth, called otherwise. Bosses, friends, teachers, women I've had sex with -- they've all known me only by my brother's name. My name. He gave it up and I chose it.     Something unnatural happened in the exchange. When I think of myself as Erich or am called Erich, I still experience a doubleness. Part of me takes this address as my own; another recalls his face -- usually as he was in 1969, the summer he died. His looks were puffy and pale, nondescript, the way something is when it's unfinished: vague blue eyes, hairless snowball cheeks with skin almost translucent so you became aware of the blue of his veins, sand-colored sprouts of lashes, and sandy hair -- not wild, but undomesticated -- tufting out in several directions at once. His face was comfortable, cushy. His moonish features lit up from that wacky, chip-toothed grin. You had to laugh.     I loved no one more than him, except my mother. Erich was my brother, protector (though he couldn't have beaten a cow to the punch), and my only friend. My mother was a beautiful distant planet I'd glimpse through a powerful telescope.     Taking his name was easy. I asked to be called Erich as part of a conspiracy to keep him alive. I joined the conspiracy by offering a trade, me for him. I couldn't have put it into words, but I knew I was expendable in a way that Erich was not. "Erich is the fuel," my mother once said, and I agreed.     "The fuel on the hill," Erich said when I reported this back to him. Then he farted in the crook of his arm and drag-raced around in a figure eight.     My mother called me by his name almost from the day he died. She leaned over to tuck me into my grandmother's pullout couch. Then she smiled and said, as if some living form of him had stepped into her line of vision, "Goodnight, Erich." She caught herself. She stared into the space between us, where no one was, and then looked back at me. For a moment she saw me -- me as me. Finally, she repeated, "Goodnight." No name attached. That kind of thing happened many times.     My mother's mother, my Oomie Doris, had been doing it, too. We stayed with her for two weeks after the funeral. Her slips were comically obvious. In her fierce determination to avoid all mention or thought of suicides, funerals, or the dead himself, she consistently misapplied the name of her departed firstborn grandson to her living last-born one. She would hold out my chair, saying, "Erich, you sit here." She'd arrange for my sister and Erich (me) to stay home with Papa, while she and Mom went to the beauty shop. She'd call me into the kitchen for a snack, using the name of the deceased. This confusion of identities didn't seem nearly as odd, under the circumstances, as the fact that she never noticed or corrected it.     With Oomie, though, it wasn't personal. She didn't mean anything by it. She refused to talk about what was on everybody's mind, and, so, the subject forced itself to her lips. My mother, on the other hand, had rarely called me by name before all this happened, as if the nameable fact of my existence were distasteful. When Erich died I became unspeakable. I knew she was thinking, "Why couldn't you have been the one to die?"     So, when I said, "Call me Erich," she looked deep into me and let out a long breath.     "Yes," she said, "we always meant that to be your name." Then, for the first time I could remember, she kissed me. A benediction.     It was this simple.     That night, as I lay on the sofa bed, eyes closed and awake, I heard Mom talking to my sister Deborah. "It's what he wants. Let him have it," my mother whispered. "It won't last forever."     "I think it's sick," Deborah spit back.     Mom was silent. I imagined her fixing Deborah with a look that said "I understand you, but I'm deeply disappointed." Finally, she explained, "He's a young boy. His brother died. He wants to keep him alive."     "He's twelve years old. That's not so young. And my brother died, too. It's still sick. He's not so young; he knows what he's doing. You've said so yourself. He always knows what he's doing."     "Meaning what?"     "You know what. As if everything that happens, happens only to him. He didn't die. Erich did."     My mother stopped her. "He knows that, we all know that."     "It's morbid and perverted."     Mom started crying. Deborah whispered to soothe her. I strained to hear but couldn't. I fell asleep.     For some days afterward, Deborah tried to avoid me. We were thrown together, though, in a two-bedroom condo with the usual decisions to make: what to watch on TV, when to take Papa for his walk. Before long, the ordinary subsumed all that was jarring in our lives, including Erich's death and my name. Deborah didn't care enough to fight it. She didn't fight for anything, not even for the close companionship she and Mom, until Erich's death, had shared. Deborah hung back, loitering on the periphery of the family as if watching us through a window from the street. So, I became Erich.     When I spoke to my father on the phone, it was clear he'd already been spoken to.     "Your mother tells me you want to be called Erich," he said.     "Yes."     "She believes we should respect your wishes."     "Yes."     "Is that what you want?"     "Yes."     "Can you tell me why you want this?" His tone carried more distress than curiosity. It was a troubled version of his philosopher's voice: measured, logical, verging on rhetorical but shy of demanding, and world sad.     "No."     I was trying to piece together my father's features. We'd left him only days before, standing beside a car at the cemetery where we'd buried Erich. I couldn't assemble his face in my mind. I could see the ridge that outlined his pink lips like a raised seam, could see the way he pursed those lips, both wise and worried. I could see the brown plastic of his glasses, the creamy white of his bad eye -- but not the man.     "Was this your idea?" he asked.     "Yes."     "Don't you like your own name?"     "Yes. No."     "Yes or no?"     "Yes and no."     "But you like `Erich' better."     "Yes."     He knew better than to disapprove. He was entitled to ask, to press even, but he'd given up the right to an opinion. He'd given it up by giving me up, only days before. We both knew it, but were too polite to say. However violently he wanted to stop what was happening, he'd condemned himself to the role of pained observer, lobbing questions from the back of the room.     "Have you always liked that name better?"     "Yes."     "Always?"     "Yes."     "Are you sure this was your idea?     "Yes. Who else's would it be?"     His silence told me whose he thought.     "This is what you want," he said.     "Yes."     "Just for now, right?"     "Yes. Just for now," I agreed.     The rest was even easier. When we returned to California, school had already begun. We had only arrived in Venice Beach that spring and I didn't know anyone. At school I was the new kid, the one whose brother had died. That information, having mysteriously preceded us, was common knowledge. As for my name, I could have been Astro or Porkchop for all they cared. What mattered most, at least to the kids my age, was the means of my brother's demise.     "How'd he do it?" was the first thing anyone said to me after the school secretary had ushered me to my locker.     "Bedsheets," I said. "Hung himself."     The kid put his hand to his neck and shook his head, before ambling off to report the fact to a couple of wriggly guys down the hall.     Later, another boy, peeing next to me before gym, sought confirmation. "Your brother really lynched himself?"     "No," I shrugged. "He shot himself in the brain."     I told one kid that "He went for the Gillette" and another that he'd smashed a stolen vw van into a gas pump. It didn't matter what I said. As long as the gossip mill stayed greased, I was in. So I did my best to sustain the group fascination. Erich lived on and his nameless older brother died all sorts of spectacular deaths.     This is the way you get used to things:     First, things are one way. A family of five lives in a small ranch house outside the city. Things are as they should be. Then gradually, one of the family -- in this case the mother, being restive and immature, maybe even crazy -- begins to move toward another way of being. Everyone feels this happening and for a while tries to insist that things remain the way they are. After a bit, though, this pulling feeling coming from the mother starts to seem commonplace. What was once odd and uncomfortable is now the way things are.     Soon, however, this state of affairs yields to another, more extreme. The tugging transforms into tearing, and, in one fell swoop, the mother, like a daring, diving bird, snatches her children in her mouth and carries them away from all the things they know. Now nothing is as it was.     The feeling is so strange: flight, unfamiliarity. Crazy landscapes shoot past. The father who was with them is no longer with them. The place that they were part of is no longer theirs. And, for a time, it seems that everything will remain uncertain, painful. Slowly, though, this family begins to conceive of a life without the father. Slowly, it dawns on them that movement, like stasis, can be a constant. The unimaginable becomes the ordinary. The ordinary -- the idea of home, for instance -- assumes the lost logic of a dream. And so on, as each state of difference and confusion comes to feel, in contrast to the state that supersedes it, painless, status quo.     You get used to things when they begin to look less awful than the alternatives. Anything short of adaptation -- total integration with the new -- will result in the most difficult state of all: hunger for what you can never have -- that is, what was.     It happens in language, too. Your words mean less and less, until you come to expect no meaning from them at all. You get used to the emptiness of words, the game of language. You construct (with words, sentences, syntax) worlds whose meanings are self-contained, in which the concepts of truth and untruth have no relevance. Who is responsible in a world of "plausible deniability"? What is family in a world of flight? Who is Erich?     And so, you get used to things. Almost everything.     I am Erich now. It's too late to return to what I was, even though I hunger for my old single self. I've grown used to this strange double being, to this name, which, even as it identifies me, raises the specter of my brother, a puff pastry of a boy who strung himself up when he was little more than half my age. He haunts me and I haunt his memory.     I have become so unlike him. I am longer -- at five feet eleven inches the tallest in my family by four inches -- and thinner, even gaunt. I have never really assumed my body, or maybe I should say my body has never assumed its designated space in the world. I hunch over, gesture tentatively, live up in my head. My facial hair, which I rarely shave, grows in patches that never fill in. The passage of time further distorts my relationship to Erich: Now I am his senior. He is still and forever seventeen. I am steadily growing older. He no longer wants anything. I want out. Copyright © 2001 Todd London. All rights reserved.