December 29: “The Indestructible Man” by William Jablonsky

Wow, Story366! We’re down to the last three posts of the year! Someone just asked me if I was nervous about messing this up, if I was worried that I’d somehow not finish, get this far only to fall short of achieving this yearlong goal of posting every day. In some ways, I have been overly nervous about that, fearing some accident or emergency or arrest to derail me. Certainly, however, I could have done the last several entries ahead of time, scheduled them to appear on their proper days, and that would have been that, goal achieved. That seems like cheating at this point, though, right? I’ve written ahead before—twice for Cub Scout campouts—and it’s not like anyone’s holding me to doing this a certain way. More than that, I’m enjoying the countdown, reading from a book and writing this post every day. To work ahead, to finish this before New Year’s Eve? That seems unfair in some way. I don’t know how, don’t know why, but it just does. So, for two days after today, the last two of 2016,I’ll read, I’ll write, I’ll post before midnight. And then I’ll be done.

Tonight I’m actually doing something that I’ve not done in Springfield in … over a year? I’m going to meet someone for a drink. It’s a former student, one who went away for his MFA two years ago and has been back since summer, though we’re just getting together now to have a drink, talk about his time away, talk about whatever. One thing this Story366 project has done has eliminated a lot of the free time I would normally reserve for such outings. Even on days that I finish my post early in the day, it seems like I should either be spending time with my family, catching up on school work, writing, treadmilling, or getting a head start on tomorrow’s post; some nights, it’s been the best dea to just get caught up on sleep. Way, way in the back of my mind, I think, It would be cool to go sit at a bar, have a drink, have friends, be a real person. Such a pursuit is, at best, the seventh priority on my list, so it’s easy to see why I don’t get out much, or haven’t at all since 2015. Sure, I’ve been in bars, at AWP, after Cub games in Wrigleyville, after a couple of readings here in town. The last time I just made plans with someone to be social, just to have fun? 2015. Needless to say, 2016 being 2016, I could use a drink.

For today’s installment of Story366, I read one final collection by a Bowling Green Creative Writing Program grad, William Jablonsky. Bill came in the year after I graduated, making him the third writer from the fiction class of ’99 to publish a collection and be featured here (Anthony Doerr and Joanna Howard are the other two), a pretty good turnout for any year, given there’s only five people in every class. I got to know Bill pretty well in his years at BG and have kept in touch and followed his career. He married another BG MFA grad and is a professor at Loras College, where I visited once while touring with Elephants. It was a pleasure today to visit with The Indestructible Man, out from Livingston Press, and I’ll focus on the title story for this post.

“The Indestructible Man” is about Bobby Mercer (not the Yankee), a kid in a small town who is kind of a bully. He’s not a particularly bad kid, but he does like to pick on the kids who are smaller than he is or geekier. Before long, that blows up in his face. One kid in particular that he likes to pick on is named Romulus Wayne, a kid with skinny arms and kind of a smart mouth. Bobby picks on him for years, all the way up to eighth grade, when Romulus starts to draw positive attention as the class daredevil. He can, somehow, jump from high structures like roofs and water towers and not sustain any injuries. This draws the attention of Abigail, whom Bobby has been sweet on for a while. One day, upon seeing Romulus perform one of his daring deeds and Abigail applaud, Bobby convinces himself that whatever Romulus can do, he can do better. Dumb idea. He climbs up an eighty-foot-tall structure and leaps off, only to find himself handicapped for life, forced to make his way around in a wheelchair.

After high school, Romulus disappears from town—with Abigail, who remains beyond smitten—and despite his physical condition and heartache, Bobby moves on. He gets a job and finds a girlfriend, the needlessly dedicated Cindy, who dotes on him despite his saltier traits. He’s able to keep going forward until Romulus Wayne, the seemingly indestructible boy from his youth, starts showing up on talk shows and in commercials. Bobby is especially bothered by a series of insurance ads, which depict Romulus in a series of should-have-been-killed-instantly situations, the voiceover doting on how you, the viewer, isn’t indestructible like Romulus Wayne, but even he has blahblahblah insurance. Considering the commercials are a reenactment of Bobby’s life tragedy, it’s easy to see why his hatred for Romulus soon achieves a zenith.

From this point forward, Bobby, convinced he has nothing left to live for, decides to kill Romulus, who is touring mid-sized cities with a daredevil act, one that’s gaining popularity, making his local celebrity skyrocket. Passing through for a show in nearby Rockford (where Jablonsky’s from), Bobby sees his opportunity to enact his revenge on the  guy he blames for all of his troubles—the fact Abigail has married Romulus doesn’t help things, either.

I won’t go any further into the plot of the “The Indestructible Man,” leaving that confrontation between the old foes for you to discover on your own. The story, at forty-one pages, leaves a lot of room for all of this aforedescribed tension to build and for Jablonsky to develop these characters beyond bitter, vengeful villain and local boy done good. Romulus, for example, seems to be wasting his incredible gift on medicine shows and minor celebrity, which doesn’t go unnoticed by Bobby or some of the other locals. Though this is mainly Bobby’s story, Jablonsky also gives himself license to roam point of view, wandering into some of the supporting characters if that’s the best way to get into their heads. Most of all, I like that this is told from Bobby’s perspective, not Romulus’, Jablonsky understanding the lessons of the Superman mythology, that the Man of Steel isn’t nearly as interesting as his more fallible foes and even his lesser cohorts. I’m not sure what a story from Romulus’ POV would be like, but I think Jablonsky made the best fiction choice here, one of the reasons I really like this long entry in his solid collection.

William Jablonsky’s The Indestructible Man is a book that isn’t afraid to cross genre barriers—way before it was chic—to tell imaginative, unique stories, all of them filled with unique characters, engaging conflicts, and memorable passages. Bill’s a talented writer and it was a real luxury to read a few of his stories back to back, to feature him here at Story366.

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