Critical Thought: Grainy

This rather brief (350 words) excerpt is from my novel "Paperboy: a dysfunctional novel" and it is actually one complete chapter reproduced here in its entirety. It's an odd book, purposely structured to be a quick and easy read, mainly because the subject matter is often harsh and frequently unsettling. It's certainly not a book for children or for the fainthearted, but rather a novel for the bravest among us. Dysfunctional in form as well as content, the book's 262 pages are made up of 157 chapters, most of them no more than a page or two. I tell people it's actually an 800 page novel with all the boring parts left out. In turn, readers tell me it's a movie, a black and white film with strong, intensely vivid closeups that they can't get out of their heads. They send me notes. They tell me secrets. They talk about the shadows of their youth. After you've read the book you're welcome to share your own thoughts and experiences. I can be reached through my website: bobthurber.net.

Bob Thurber is an old, unschooled writer living in Massachusetts. Over the years his short fiction has appeared in a few hundred places and received numerous awards, including The Barry Hannah Fiction Prize. His first novel "Paperboy: a dysfunctional novel" was released earlier this year.

Grainy Black and White

On the shelf of our closet my mother has two shoeboxes full of old photographs but only one of my father and it is not a good one: a grainy black and white of a tall, thin man in a dark suit standing ankle-deep in a pile of leaves beside a picket fence. He’s hatless, holding, not wearing, a Fedora, standing in the shade of a broad, black tree. In the top right corner of the photo a forward-sloping branch shows a few leaves still clinging. The edges of the leaves are so sharp, so well defined, that I imagine the photographer—who might have been my mother—was actually aiming the lens there, going after a picture of the leaves, and the rest of the image, including my father, just snuck in.


Mom keeps that photo inside a plastic sandwich bag, separate from the rest, but Kelly went through both boxes one day and it wasn’t there. A week later I found it during a pillow fight, and I studied it for an hour using a magnifying glass and the emergency flashlight we keep on the fridge. I showed the picture to Kelly and she studied it too. But since then we have never been able to find where Mom hides it.


I know there’s a tack hole in the top border and yellow-brown tape marks in two corners, so it might have once hung from the knickknack shelf above the TV or been stuck to a wall somewhere, but I can’t remember it ever hanging anywhere. Each time Mom brings the thing out she gets weepy and tells me I am the spitting image of the man, although the photo shows no evidence to support that claim. The face measures no more than a quarter inch, and even under a magnifying glass shows no distinct features other than a short haircut, side parted and slicked back, and a pair of whitish gray eyes—eyes that could be matched up with just about any pair on the planet, human or otherwise.

by Bob Thurber