This is a sort of heartwarming Friday piece about a kid who’s been writing since highschool, who’s now 24 and has a novel that’s selling well (Zoology). Actually, it’s only heartwarming if you can swallow your soul-gnawing jealousy, which I know you can’t, but it warms my cold assassin’s heart to the bone. Yes, that’s right. My heart has bones.
For his 13th birthday, young Dolnick’s well-meaning parents gave him a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Before they could say “So it goes,” he’d inhaled every word Vonnegut ever wrote and thrown himself at the mercy of his local independent bookseller to find out whom to read next. (Among the suggestions: Tim O’Brien, Tobias Wolff, Barry Hannah and Ken Kesey, whose “Sometimes a Great Notion” he especially loved.)
In middle school, he demonstrated strong resistance to tasks like mapping the Chesapeake Bay watershed but fell under the sway of a passionate and demanding eighth-grade English teacher. Pretty soon he was showing the teacher stories he’d written on his own.
Beginning high school, he drew a freshman English teacher with whom, to put it mildly, he failed to bond. His adolescent coping strategy — sulking furiously and refusing to do what he considered mindless work — earned him a first-quarter F.
A couple of years later, still looking to replace his middle-school mentor, he sought out another teacher with a reputation for enthusiastic rigor and asked him to read a three-page poem. Dolnick knew he’d found his man when the teacher sat right down in the hallway, read the poem attentively, then Xed out the second page.
I kind of envy all you folks who started writing very young. How wonderful to know what you wanted to do from an early age. When I was this kid’s age, I was still a year away from even starting to really write, and my primary goal was to find five bucks to put gas in the tank of my pickup so I could hit the road again. Creative writing was, for me, correspondence with bill collectors. Gosh. How things can change in ten years… wait, I mean — Gosh. Nothing ever changes.