Authors: Jon Hassler
“Very entertaining … The focus … is Miles Pruitt, Staggerford High School’s senior English teacher.… One of the most likable protagonists of modern fiction.”
The Pittsburgh Press
“Staggerford, Minnesota, is a town out of control. It is as weird and convoluted as any lover of comic fiction could wish, and every oddity of the town reaches into Miles Pruitt’s classroom.… Mr. Hassler has produced wonderful characters.… The book would make a wonderful movie.”
Boston Herald American
surprises the reader with its humor, its tension, and its unusual revelations of the uncommon aspects of commonplace life. The author immerses his audience in the excitements of his townspeople.… A remarkable first novel.”
The Virginia Quarterly Review
“A thoroughly convincing X-ray vision of small-town life … Jon Hassler has created a thoroughly satisfying piece of fiction, one that is simultaneously so sincere, so true, so honest with itself and so very, very funny that a reader often has to wipe the tears out of the corners of his eyes before he can—as he must—read on.”
The Houston Post
is one week in the life of Miles Pruitt and an absorbing week it is.… A delightfully humorous novel though the humor is laced with acid. Hassler writes with grace and knowledge of cafeteria lunches, student compositions and the everlasting entanglements of small-town life.… A small-town novel in the best American tradition. It explores not only life in such a town but the absurdity of human behavior.… A fine novel and decidedly worth reading.”
Omaha Midlands Business Journal
“Not only a very good storyteller, but also a compassionate man.”
The Seattle Time Magazine
“He writes as one who has tasted of life’s foibles and ironies and missed none of their meaning.… A memorable first novel … A neat blend of humor and pathos … Hassler has a keen ear for life’s phoniness and excesses, and for man’s inappropriate responses to life’s revelations.”
Wilmington Sunday News Journal
“Hassler enters that rare world of Cheever, Updike, de Vries and Salinger, wherein the ordinary becomes extraordinary.”
Book and Authors
“Wonderfully good … A gem of fiction … The portraits are written sharply, but with essential kindness. Hassler’s style is finished and perfect. He shows a wry perception of human foibles and failed expectations but he is never cruel or bitter.’ ”
Buffalo Evening News
“These ordinary people, who come alive and interesting through Hassler’s astute handling, provide what turns out to be a thrilling climax to a thoroughly good novel.”
The Raleigh News and Observer
“Extraordinarily good … The humor is alive and the dialogue outstanding in its accuracy.”
Savannah News Press Sunday Magazine
“The most winning ambiance of any novel I’ve seen in ages. It’s got other things too: good characters, plot that moves, a vision that carries the reader over the pain he faces.…But most of all it has a feeling that charms. Like a hazy fall day when there’s time to look around and things aren’t gouged by shadows or blaring with light. It’s warm and dry, and the even light gets into everything.”
By Jon Hassler
Published by The Random House Publishing Group:
THE LOVE HUNTER
A GREEN JOURNEY
NORTH OF HOPE
Young Adult Novels
FOUR MILES TO PINECONE
A Ballantine Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group
Copyright © 1974, 1977 by Jon Hassler
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. A portion of this nove! first appeared in the
South Dakota Review
Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 76-57757
For my mother and father
God love them
Oh, why is it that life is for some an exquisite privilege and others must pay for their seats at the play with a ransom of cholers, infections and nightmares?
It seemed to Miles that while the faces changed from year to year, the personality of a first-hour class never varied. It was a tractable class. Most of the thirty students hadn’t been out of bed for more than half an hour and they weren’t yet sharp or restless. Like Miles, they were sleepy. Moreover, they were slow-witted. The Staggerford High School band rehearsed during first hour, and the better students for some reason were inevitably drawn to band. Each morning as the band marched across the street to the football field, high-stepping and tooting in preparation for its halftime formations, these thirty students were left in the classroom to puzzle over the formations of the compound sentence or the working parts of the business letter. Love poems by Rod McKuen were beyond them. To say that all nonmusicians were dull would have been unwarranted, and Miles would not have said it. What he would have said, however, was that
nonmusicians were dull. But it was an agreeable, easygoing sort of dullness that would never lead to trouble; and since Miles himself was no ball of fire at eight in the morning, he and these thirty
seniors moved comfortably through the weeks together, rubbing the sleep from their eyes.
Miles thought of Lee Fremling, who sat facing him in the front row, as the emblem of first hour. Lee Fremling was heavy, good-natured, and lethargic. He was the son of Albert Fremling, editor of the
and the wildest father a boy could possibly have. But none of this wildness seemed to have been handed down to Lee. Albert Fremling was an alcoholic with a passion for driving on Friday nights as fast as he could go. One Friday last spring Albeit Fremling had swerved to miss a tree and smashed, doing eighty-five, into a small house at the edge of town. At the time, fortunately, the widow who lived in the house was in the hospital with a broken hip (she had fallen from the bottom rung of a stepladder while taking off storm windows) and so was spared being run over in bed, but the editor was left with a permanently crippled left arm and a scarred forehead. Mrs. Fremling could recall the names of at least seventy-five people who had tried over the years to cure her husband of his drinking and his suicidal driving—the names of highway patrolmen, psychiatrists, businessmen, neighbors, jailers, and the pastors of three Lutheran churches—all to no avail. By nightfall on Fridays the
was out on the street, and that was when its editor drank himself cockeyed and got into his red Pontiac and flew off down the highway to Berrington or crisscrossed the prairie south of the river, his headlights sailing over the dirt roads and lighting up, when he doubled back, the clouds of his own dust. People sitting in their houses with their windows open could hear the squeal of the editor’s tires as he left town, and sometimes they could hear, shouted from his car, his pledge never to return; but he never traveled beyond the limits of Berrington County and he always came home before morning, sometimes on bail, often sick, and always profoundly depressed.
How then (Miles wondered) could there have come from Albeit Fremling’s house such a son as Lee—slow and congenial and even-tempered? Lee must have been what his mother and grandmother had made him. Mrs. Fremling
was a small, cool woman, and Mrs. Fremling’s mother who lived with them, was just like her. These two women—neat and efficient, smart and silent—kept the house and yard and newspaper office and Lee (all except the editor himself) orderly. But in sheltering Lee from the grossness of his father, it seemed to Miles that these two women had prolonged in him the illusions of childhood, and had delayed the coming on of worldly wisdom. Lee’s eyes were full of innocence. On the football field, despite his size, he was pushed around a good deal. He was large like his father, but this largeness was not, like his father’s, the bulk of self-indulgence. It was baby fat.
Second hour, Miles was off balance.
The issue hadn’t been settled yet, but he suspected that second-hour English was out of his control. It was a rowdy class—a mixture of athletes, flirts, musicians, and show-offs. The band was back indoors now, full of fresh air and smart remarks, and the sun was up over the administrative wing across the courtyard, filling Miles’s classroom with intense light and shadow. Unable to channel all this nine-o’clock pep where he wanted it to go, Miles had to spend most of second hour patrolling the aisles and twirling about on his toes to see the antics going on behind his back.
Among the students who never sat still were Roxie Booth and Jeff Norquist. In the faculty lunchroom it was said that if something wasn’t done about Roxie Booth, she would be the death this year of old Ray Smith, who kept trying to teach history long past his time. At the end of the day Ray Smith’s suits were covered with chalk dust where Roxie had clapped erasers on him. Roxie was fat and slung with gold and silver chains from the dimestore. She wore rings on eight of her fingers. She could barely read, but she remembered in detail all the classic stories of world literature that had been made into movies. She was a predator, smiling, batting her eyes, and continually testing Miles’s tolerance for suggestive remarks. She exposed more of her skin than was modest. Her father, a career man in the army, had moved his children through seventeen schools
in fifteen states, and there was nothing about school curriculum, army lore, or the dark side of human nature that Roxie did not know. She was also nervous and she sometimes broke out in a talking jag. The stories she told were mostly those gathered up in camps where her father had been stationed, and she dumped them now, like garbage, in the middle of Berrington County—five hundred square miles of farmland in the center of Minnesota, where people were unaccustomed to hearing about such things as the corporal who stood at a bar and ate, on a bet, a beer bottle.