I am often confused with the author of Berthcut & Sons that I figured I might as well write my own blog. People will think it’s him but what’s the difference?
My name, Dexter Clatterbaugh, came from two sources. ‘Dexter’ is a nod to Lee Dexter, creator of Bertie the Bunyip, a Philadelphia children’s show running from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s. According to the”Pioneers of Broadcasting” site, a bunyip is “really an Aborigine good spirit.” They “look strange because they were at the end of the line when God created animals. They got all the leftovers – the bill of a platypus, upright ears of a kangaroo, a bubble nose and the scraggly fur of a puppy.” I have a scraggly look but that’s the end of the resemblance. As a character, I was not privileged with this memory nor the apparently blissful experience of watching Bertie, Fussie and Gussie, Winnie the Witch, Poochie the Pup, and, the show’s villain, a fox named Sir Guy de Guy.
Clatterbaugh was the name of the author’s friend in grade school. First name, Guy. Most remembered is a moment during the author’s trip to Florida in 1958. His family arrived in Miami by car, around eight p.m. The author looks out the car window and who is running atop a knoll in front of a hotel: Guy Clatterbaugh. The connection to the Sir Guy de Guy is serendipitous. I suspect both childhood references give me, in the author’s mind, an immature feel. The novel falls under the general literary category, bildungsroman, a coming of age novel.
The more I know about the author’s life, especially his experiences at the religious goods store, Cutherbertson’s, located, like Berthcut & Sons, at 20th and Sansom Street in Philadelphia, the better I understand his family’s reactions after reading the novel. One relative, in particular, did not separate mine from the author’s experiences at the store and got angry that the author took so much abuse from Gerard, the senior salesman. Except, there really wasn’t a Gerard, although another salesman did train the author and had come to a similar conclusion: the author was the worst salesman he’d ever encountered. Both he and Gerard wondered how the hell we got the job.
If we had known what we were in for, maybe it would have been better not to have tried so hard in the interview to give the impression that we wanted the salesman job. Five other candidates were also interviewed. Do we call it a miracle or cosmic joke?
Yet, what the author’s relative failed to notice was how I stayed on at the job and, implausibly, moved up the ranks until I was named manager. The author, whereas, quit after six months, even before he was accepted to graduate school. Never was he tempted to take a sales job ever again. In fact, he didn’t get a regular full-time job for another fifteen years.
Much of the time during those years, he worked on Berthcut & Sons. It started as a short story in a fiction writing class at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. In a few years, he tried to turn the story into a novel. In 1980-81, and later in 1983-84, he went to Italy and worked on the book. Several times he started over after getting stalled around page 100. It wasn’t until 1990 that the first full version at 380 pages was typed.
In 1982, an excerpt entitled “The Sale is Not the Most Important Thing” was published in the DeKalb Literary Arts Journal. At least eight other excepts were published in the next twenty years. In 2007, a small press publisher was interested in publishing the novel. A contract was signed but the author disagreed with the publisher over several requested changes. A year later the contract was negated.
A curious thing about the novel is that up to the time a publisher showed interest, the title was Head Nor Tail. I tend to still think of the book by that name. Live with something for so long. . . . The idea was that we in the novel could not “make head nor tail” what was happening. Even the reader would follow the events of the novel quite clearly but still have doubts about what the novel was about. He also had a ‘head’ and ‘tail’ motif throughout. The shop’s tailor, for example, is Arduino Testa, ‘testa’ being Italian for ‘head’. An author thing, I guess.
The present title is more concrete and has a sort of Dickensian flavor. Supposedly, Dickens’ style in works like The Pickwick Papers and Dombey and Son was emulated. The illustration on the front, a pencil being broken in half, is meant to encapsulate Gerard’s frustration with my unwillingness to take the job seriously.
Another influence on the novel is the writings of Raymond Queneau, author of The Bark Tree and Exercises in Style. The author characterized the novel in cover letters to editors as “Ameri-queneau” and even has a Queneau-like pun in the book. Enoch, the shipping clerk, questions whether Raymond the U.P.S. man should hang around and hear shop gossip. The manager responds: “I think Raymond can know what’s happening here.”
The novel is the first of a trilogy. The second is called At-Any-Moment-Something-Else, dealing with Berthcut & Sons, Dalmy Brothers which owns Berthcut, and the comglomerate Zeitgeist International, which owns Dalmy Brothers; the third, primarily about Gerard and myself, is The Coincidence Men. The novels have been outlined but serious attention really hasn’t been paid to them. It makes sense more people should read Berthcut & Sons before Castle embarks on the arduous task of writing two more novels, especially since the first one took so long. But I am excited to see what happens to me and my finally getting out of the religious goods business.