THE PARADOX OF VERTICAL FLIGHT by Emil Ostrovski
Release Date: September 24, 2013 Hardcover, 260 pages Publisher: Greenwillow Books Genre: Contemporary / Realistic Fiction / Tough Issues / Suicide
What happens when you put a suicidal eighteen-year-old philosophy student, his ex-girlfriend, his best friend, and his newborn baby in a truck and send them to Grandma's house?
This debut novel by Emil Ostrovski will appeal to fans of John Green, Chris Crutcher, and Jay Asher. On the morning of his eighteenth birthday, philosophy student and high school senior Jack Polovsky is somewhat seriously thinking of suicide when his cell phone rings.
Jack's ex-girlfriend, Jess, has given birth, and Jack is the father. Jack hasn't spoken with Jess in about nine months—and she wants him to see the baby before he is adopted. The new teenage father kidnaps the baby, names him Socrates, stocks up on baby supplies at Wal-Mart, and hits the road with his best friend, Tommy, and the ex-girlfriend.
As they head to Grandma's house (eluding the police at every turn), Jack tells baby Socrates about Homer, Troy, Aristotle, the real Socrates, and the Greek myths—because all stories spring from those stories, really. Even this one. Funny, heart-wrenching, and wholly original, this debut novel by Emil Ostrovski explores the nature of family, love, friendship, fate, fatherhood, and myth.
My phone rings, but I don't get up.
In my dream, the teacher hands out frogs, living frogs, and lectures: “Frogs produce smaller air bubbles than humans, who in turn produce smaller air bubbles than llamas. We find this out by drowning the species in question, of course. Please drown your frog and make sure to measure the diameter of its air bubbles, rounding to the nearest significant digit. Tomorrow we’ll measure the bubbles produced by our lab partners, and the day after that, the students that are left will move on to the llamas.” It makes no sense at all, but so it goes with my dreams. Some people dream of epic heroes’ quests, of saving the universe from a great evil, and I get dreams about the differentiation of air bubbles across species.
Around nine I roll myself into a sitting position, finger the gunk out of my eyes, examine it for a moment, and then launch it across the room to where I don’t have to immediately deal with it. My roommate’s snores filter down from the top bunk.
My cell is on my desk. The blinking red light of a missed call flashes across the room. Damn. I missed Bob. I try calling her back, but she doesn’t answer. She’s always losing her phone, misplacing it; broke it a few times from chucking it, because she couldn’t get the idiotskaya electronica to work.
I call my grandma “Bob” because I’m too lazy to bother with the alternatives; namely, “Babushka,”“Baba,” and “starypur,” the Russian version of old fart. Bob has Alzheimer’s, and it’s my birthday, so her call means today’s one of those days, or maybe just one of those moments, a flash, when she remembers me.
Partly to distract myself from the guilt, but mostly out of habit, I turn on my computer and wait for Windows to load. I don’t capitalize “god” but I always capitalize “Windows.” I spend much of my life in front of a screen, plugged into the matrix, looking through a Window into my virtual life. Still waiting on a black dude with a name that sounds like a drug to show up and teach me kung fu, though.
I log in to Facebook and I’m so depressed I want to laugh. Fifteen Facebook friends have wished me a happy birthday so far. I’ve never really cared about birthdays, honestly—I mean, it’s just another day—but to see all these people, most of whom I don’t know or in a few years won’t remember, wishing me a happy birthday makes me feel like I should care. Like it should be a special day, like it should mean something.
I think I hate Facebook.
I lean back in my chair and stare out the window. When I’m thirty years old, will I still get a bunch of people I don’t know wishing me a happy birthday? Will that number dwindle over the years? Will, year by year, some people who’ve forgotten me remember and some people who’ve remembered me forget? What’s the point of it all, for any of us, if that’s the way it goes—if the way it ends is with me logging into Facebook at ninety years old, bald and fat and wearing a diaper and not remembering how to get to the toilet, which is why I’m wearing a diaper in the first place, and seeing, what? Fifteen people I don’t know wishing me a happy birthday? And each of my fifteen with fifteen of their own, on and on, a miserable network of Happy Birthday Facebook wishes connecting the entire world, the entire human race, until one day we nuke ourselves and it all goes black and there are no more happy birthdays for anyone.
Sometimes I get like this, depressed I mean, but I’m not one of those crazies, you know, a danger to themselves and others, nothing like that. Never even contemplated suicide, though in a few seconds I will be contemplating jumping out a window. It’s hot—eighty, maybe more; my T-shirt’s wet on my body, and it feels more miserable than it has any right to for a May morning in our great moose- infested state of Maine. I wheel over to open the window, slide it all the way up. I have to stand so I can reach the screen, to slide it down into place. Instead I stick my hand out.
What if I jump? What if I jump, now? I don’t want to die, but getting hurt would be kind of nice, you know? Like two years ago, when I got my appendix out. Everyone from class sent Get Well cards and Tommy skipped school to spend a day with me playing video games in the hospital. Yeah, that’s selfish, but remembering your friend because he almost kicked it is just as selfish.
I turn away from the window. The attention would last a couple weeks, max. Then everyone would go back to their own lives and everything would be the same. But unlike when I got my appendix out, I might be crippled for life.
I walk on over to my desk, pull open a drawer, shuffle through video game boxes and CDs and pencils and pens and a worn pink eraser I never use but bring to school every quarter anyway. I grab the bottle of pills, sit back down on my chair, and stare at the bottle. Painkillers. From a few months back, when I got into a fight with a fence over the arbitrary authority by which it goes about the supremely arrogant task of delineating space. The fence won the tiff, but, fractured ankle aside, I like to think I’ll win the war. I set the painkillers on the desk, and check under my bed. That’s where I keep my water, but there isn’t any left, so I stuff the pills in my pocket.
“Hey,” comes my roommate Alan’s I’m-still-three-quarters-sleeping voice.
I spin round. “Hey,” I say, too loud.
He frowns at me, head about three inches off the pillow, and says, “Feel like I wanted to say something to you. But I forget. I’ll remember.”
“That’s all right.”
“Jack,” he says, suddenly concerned. “It is a Saturday, right?”
“Yeah,” I say. “No worries.”
“Phew,” he says. His head drops back down. Almost every Saturday Alan groggily asks me if it’s really the weekend—like he can’t quite believe it himself. He’s a nice guy, Alan, as nice a roommate as you could hope for, but we don’t really do anything together aside from, well, sleeping together. .It’s just that kind of a relationship.
I have my hand on our doorknob when--voices in the hall. When they’re gone I nudge the door open and head for the bathroom. A guy’s in the shower, singing something about how we’re meant to be together in a voice that he really should keep a firm leash and a choke collar on if he insists on taking it out in public.
I set the bottle of pills on the shelf below the mirror. My reflection has a zit coming up on his forehead. It hurts to touch. He squeezes anyway, and bites at the inside of his lip. It explodes; a bit of yellow-white pus hits him in the eye and slides down, down, like a tear.
How many pills will kill me and how many will almost kill me? That is the question. It’s a fine line, probably. I open the bottle, look inside, and frown. Pull the cotton ball out.
I turn on the faucet. And hold my hands under the warm water. Close my eyes. Breathe. Breathe. I’m about to down my first pill when my cell rings. Once, twice, three times. The guy in the shower stops singing.
My breath catches when I see the number.
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“I'm twenty-three. Rather than give you a witty, self-deprecating account of the trials and tribulations of my twenty-three year old, suburban, upper-middle class, went-to-a-girl's-liberal-arts-college life, I'll admit that I haven't really done anything much worth reading about. So in lieu of providing you with my biography, I will recommend that you read Desmond Tutu's. Here. Why Desmond Tutu? Well, I've always liked his name.”