ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Penance," a story by Robert Klose


            The first time I was sent to fetch Father Chester Griegul was for the deceased Konstanty Adamak, who was laid out in the funeral home where I worked part time. Even though he was ninety-one when he died and had been in failing health for years, the family in the small chapel was raising such a wail that, in the irreverent and hackneyed words of the funeral director, "They could wake the dead." 
            The church of Our Lady of Czestochowa was dark, like the Virgin of Czestochowa herself. Cold and fortress-like, it was anything but inviting. Only those propelled by the most grievous sins would have the mettle to enter such a dreary place in one of the city's poorest quarters. The neighboring rectory was a brick affair. All the windows had iron bars. The front door was massive — laminated oak studded with iron rivets. A solitary street lamp cast a veiled glow into the empty neighborhood. I expected to hear footfalls, or perhaps feel a hand on my shoulder, at any moment. I lifted the brass knocker on the door and sent a thudding echo through the rectory. One long minute later there was a flicker at the peephole, and the muffled words, "What do you want?"
            "I've come for Father Griegul," I said. "I'm from the funeral home."
            "Wait there."
            I did as I was told. I kept a sharp lookout, though, nervously glancing about, in case someone was lurking in the shadows. Although my job at the funeral home earned me the money to put myself through college, I did not like driving to these outposts at night. The door opened.
            The priest who stood before me draped in a black cassock was monstrously obese. The fat flowed over his shoes and formed ivory-colored bracelets about his wrists. He was not an old man — I later learned that he was sixty — but his face was paunchy and mottled, with thin purple veins visible in his beaklike nose. He had a crown of thick black hair, pomaded back. He leaned on a cane and held a prayer book in his free hand. "I'm ready," he said, with resignation, as if he were prepared for death.
            He signaled to me to assist him. I took his arm and we began our slow descent, one step at a time, the way a small child would. Father Griegul wheezed from the exertion as I struggled to support him, and then he coughed so violently that I thought he would collapse. Then what would I do? Anyone arriving on the scene would assume I had assaulted a priest.
            We made it to the car. Father told me exactly how to adjust his seat so he could fit in. As soon as we drove off he began to talk. He didn't ask me anything about myself but simply used me as a sounding board for his observations and opinions. I quickly learned that he did not like crowds, thought all politicians were crooks, was convinced that the post office searched his mail, and disapproved of the outreach activities of his fellow priests. "They didn't have to become priests to be social workers," he said. He punctuated his pronouncements with, "If you ask me."
            Along the way he told me to pull up in front of a liquor store. He waved a twenty dollar bill at me and said, "Get me a fifth of Canadian, would you?" I stared at the money and swallowed. "Father," I said, "they won't sell to me. I'm underage."
            The priest looked as if I had insulted him. "What do you mean?" he said. "Of all the…They probably know there's a priest out here and that's why they won't sell. I should go in there myself and…"
            "Father," I said, "we'll be late for the funeral home."
            He stared at me, as if finally understanding our purpose. "Do you speak Polish?" he asked me out of the blue.
            "I know a few words and expressions," I said as we continued on our way.
            "What's your family name?"
            I told him and he bit his lip, then extended his tongue, as if tasting my name. "Where is your family from?
            "In Poland?"
            "My grandmother came from Lublin, I think."
            Father Griegul looked stricken. Then he turned his gaze to the road in front of us. "Let's hurry," he said. "The sooner in, the sooner out."
            The scene at the funeral home was pandemonium. Black-clad Polish women were throwing themselves at the casket in waves, such that two employees had to steady it, lest the repose of the corpse be disturbed. The men were more reserved, but one could see the grief in their heavily-lined faces and trembling lips. As soon as Father Griegul walked in, all attention turned from the deceased to him. The mourners surrounded him like dead and dying planets orbiting a sun. I watched Father carefully. His expression brightened a bit, as if pleased by the attention. Leaning heavily on his cane, he lumbered to the front of the chapel, stood with his back to the casket, and began the prayers.
            I stood on the threshold and listened as Father recited the prayers at mach speed, in an almost disinterested manner, the Polish chup-chup-chupping along, and then pausing here and there for the response from the mourners. When the brief service ended, Father moved through the crowd like a freighter putting out to sea. "Take me home," he said when he reached me.
            I got him safely back to the rectory. "Good night, Father," I said as he went inside. But all he did was look at me for a moment and nod. He repeated my name, in a curious manner. Then he was gone.
            The next time Father Griegul needed to be picked up, I expected the task would fall to one of the other employees, as we took turns transporting the priests. "He wants you," the funeral director said to me. "You should be flattered. Father Griegul doesn't like many people."
            I steeled myself for a repeat of the previous trip, put off as I was by his gruff and judgmental manner. And then there was his seeming preoccupation with my name. When I arrived at the rectory he was already standing in front of the door, despite the light drizzle on the rather cool summer night.  He wore a rain cape over his cassock, which made him look even more massive.
            "You're right on time," he said. "Punctuality is good. It's a virtue."
            We repeated the effort of loading him into the car, which elicited the first of his complaints that evening. "Why do they make these things so low?" he remarked. "And so small. It's like a death trap."
            I suggested we put his cane in the back seat to create a little more room for his legs. But he wouldn't hear of it. "Don't be ridiculous," he said. "If we crash, I'll need it to get out of the wreckage."
            "We won't crash, Father," I said, and then caught myself, not wanting to contradict him. 
            "How do you know?" he said, taking up the challenge. "In my life, there have been a lot of things I never thought would happen. How much do you know about Poland and the war?"
            "Just a little bit, Father," I said. "Things I've read."
            "Books!" he barked. "What do books know? Experience is the only teacher, and when you die, you take the lessons with you." He fell into a coughing fit which turned his face beet red and distended the veins in his nose. 
            "Are you all right, Father?"
            He caught his breath. "Of course I'm not all right," he rasped. "I have one foot in the grave." Then he paused, as if thinking about what he'd just said. "But then again," he continued, "I've had one foot in the grave before and I managed to come back."
            The prayer service in the funeral chapel followed the same script as the previous one. The deceased was another elderly Polish man, the black-clad women screamed and sobbed, Father skidded through his prayers, and then I drove him home. "Those services must be difficult for you," I offered. Father threw me a pitying glance, as if mocking my attempt at small talk. Then he softened. "They're not difficult at all," he said. "For me, at least. If you've ever fallen from a great height and survived, would you say that walking down a flight of steps is difficult? Everything is relative. It's important to compare."
            "Yes, Father."
            He huffed. "You say yes, but you don't know what the hell I'm talking about."
            I decided to defend myself. "Yes I do, Father. A few years ago I broke my arm in three places. I was in agony. Before the accident I used to be afraid of needles. Now I don't mind needles. It's interesting, but I even look forward to them because they remind me that things could be worse."
            Father looked at me incredulously. My eyes caught his and a chill rushed through me. I knew that there was really no such thing as black eyes, but his were the darkest I had ever seen. "You're a piece of work," he said. "How old are you??
            "In college?"
            I said good night to him at the rectory door. This time he reciprocated my well wishes.
            Despite myself, and my opinion of Father, I began to think about him, convinced that there was something lying beneath his coarse and outspoken exterior. Something that would be of interest to me. I also came to feel that there might be something I could learn from him. He was on my mind even when, a few days later, I went to visit Babciu, my grandmother, at the nursing home. Father had piqued my interest in my family, however cryptically, and Babciu was a primary source of information, even though her memory was, in my father's words, "beginning to skip."
            Babciu was eighty-eight. She had miraculously survived the war in Poland after dodging the aggressions of first the Russians and then the Germans. Old photos showed a thickset woman with a moon face and long, wavy brown hair. Now she was a mere wisp, her gray hair nestled under a polkadot kerchief and her left hand with a Parkinson's tremor, her leathery fingers rolling constantly toward her palm, as if she were begging for money. She looked at me from her wheelchair with the sweetest smile, as if to say, "It's not as bad as it looks. I am at peace." I regretted never having interrogated her about our family while she was able to give lucid testimony. Was it now too late? I pulled out my notebook and asked her to tell me everything she could remember.
            "They wrote me after the war," she said as I scribbled. "They wanted money for a sewing machine. But I said no, I'll send you the sewing machine but not the money. And they never wrote back."
            "But during the war, Babciu, what happened?"
            "They wanted money for a sewing machine," she repeated, nodding. "But when I told them I would send them the machine but not the money, they never wrote back."
            I smiled and readjusted my position in my chair. "The family, Babciu," I prompted. "In the war. In Lublin."
            The name of the city seemed to have some effect. Her pale blue eyes brightened. "We were Catholics," she said. "But it didn't matter. The boy was hitting the soldiers…"
            I asked her what boy she was talking about. "Your brother, Babciu? A member of the family?"
            She glanced sidelong. "He was hitting the soldiers."
            "The German soldiers?"
            "They were hitting the boy," she corrected. "Tell us!" they shouted. "They shook him so hard. I know. I was watching from the woods. I thought his head would fly off his shoulders. My family was in the small barn. The boy pointed. The soldiers burned the barn."
            Why hadn't I ever heard this story? Maybe because it wasn't true. "My God.  Did they die, Babciu?"
            "Yes, all of them. It was very sad. But some family up in Suwalki lived. They wrote me a letter. They wanted money for a sewing machine, but I said no, I'll send you the sewing machine but not the money, and they never wrote back."
            "Babciu, who died?"
            Her gaze drifted from me and she began to recite, "Mama, Papa, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, cousin, baby. They wanted money for a sewing machine…"
            I couldn't get any further. I kissed Babciu on the forehead and told her I would be back. She murmured something in Polish. I left.
            Was the story true? There seemed to be no way to tell. My father — Babciu's son — had only mentioned, in generic terms, that family had died during the war. Who, besides my grandmother, was alive to corroborate it now? 
            A few days later I was in the neighborhood of Our Lady of Czestochowa. I stopped and stared at the rectory, wondering if Father Griegul was inside. I wondered what he did when he was not ministering or saying mass. Did he read? Correspond with family and friends (if he had any)? Or did he just eat to fuel that expansive body? I looked over at the church with its red bricks and tall, narrow spire and decided to go in.
            I was immediately struck by the sweetness of the air. Then I saw incense burning near the altar. The church was dim, except for a few overhead lights turned low, and banks of votive candles in red glass vessels flickering along both walls. A few elderly parishioners kneeled in the pews, fingering their beads. An old man was softly crying as he lit one of the candles with a trembling hand.
            The silence in the cavernous church made my every footfall audible. I walked up one side aisle toward the altar. To my right was an oak confessional made to resemble a little church in its own right. The center door, for the priest, was flanked by two heavy velvet curtains for the penitents. A small red light glowed above the door, indicating that the priest was present, waiting. I listened intently for a moment and heard Father Griegul's labored breathing. And then, "Don't be afraid. Come in."
            I hadn't been to confession in years and felt that I had nothing to report. But I couldn't defy Father, and so I parted one of the curtains and entered the dark booth. I knelt before the small screen separating me from the priest. It slid open and I saw his shadow. "Go on," he said.
            I cleared my throat. "Father, it's me," I whispered.
            He recognized my voice immediately. "I didn't think you would have any sins to confess," he said, without sarcasm.
            "I don't, Father. I mean, I probably do, but I'm not prepared for confession."
            "Then just talk to me. Business is slow today. Maybe everyone has become a saint. Ha!"
            I told him about the visit with Babciu and could feel Father's interest pique. But I could also feel something else. Alarm? He cleared his throat. "Your grandmother is alive?" he remarked. 
            "She's old," I told him. "And I don't know how much I can trust her memory. She told me things about my family I had never heard before." I related the story about the barn burning and the boy and the fate of her family. And of course the sewing machine. "But as I said, she seemed to be having a hard time recalling."
            "Or maybe it was impossible," said Father Griegul. "When terrible things happen, a door in the mind can shut. It's for our own good."
            "I don't know, Father. Once she got going, the story came out pretty clear and simple."
            "You mentioned a little boy. What did she say about him?"
            "That's where the story trailed off," I said. "I don't know anything about him. It didn't seem natural for a little boy to want soldiers to burn a family."
            Father leaned into the screen. "Natural?" he said, almost growling. "My God, it was war. Nothing was 'natural.' You quickly learned to believe anything. The entire world was turned on its head. I can't tell you the things that I saw with my own eyes."
            "Father," I said. "Were you in the war?"
            "I was too young."
            "But where were you?"
            He heaved a sigh. "I was in Poland," he said. "Your family name is familiar to me."
            "Father? Then maybe you can tell me something about what happened in Lublin."
            Silence. And then, "What do you aspire to?"
            "Excuse me, Father?"
            "What do you want to be? What do you have a passion for?"
            "I'd like to write."
            "You'd like to? It sounds like you either don't care what you do or you don't have any confidence in yourself."
            "I write."
            "Good. Now listen. Have you been writing about all this family stuff?"
            "Your equivocation is driving me crazy," he said. "I want you to start writing about everything you've learned since we met."
            "I will, Father."
            "Good. Now go and talk to your Babciu again. Ask her about the boy. Then come back to me. Please don't miss a detail. Go in peace." Then he shut the screen.  
            I attempted to see Babciu that very day, but she wasn't at the nursing home. She had been taken to the hospital for cataract surgery. "Come back tomorrow," the nurse told me. "It used to be a big deal, but today it's only outpatient surgery. Modern medicine is wonderful."
            I didn't get to see Babciu the next day either, because I had to work both my shift and someone else's. No elderly Poles had died, so I didn't expect to be sent for Father Griegul. In the meantime, aside from my work, I went to the library and read everything I could find about World War Two, especially the fate of Poland. It was so riveting that I regretted not having delved into this history before. Pre-war Poland had been a stew of nationalism, communism, republicanism, anarchy, anti-semitism, russophobia, and misguided idealism. Then came the one-two punch of the German invasion from the west and the Russians from the east. The country, caught in this vice, went into a paroxysm. When I finally did get to see Babciu again I felt better informed, my head swimming with images of the dissolving nation she had known so many decades before. Once again she sat in her wheelchair before me, a trembling remnant. "Babciu, what about the boy?"
            She repeated her preamble about the sewing machine. I gently ushered her back to my question. "The boy." 
            "What boy?" she asked.
            I reminded her.
            "It was interesting," she said.
            "What, Babciu? What was interesting?"
            She turned her head back to me and looked puzzled. A moment of silence, then the sewing machine again.
            "What, Babciu?" I repeated, placing my hand on hers, steadying the tremor.
            "He was a Jew."
            "The boy?"
            I wrote this down. "What did the German soldiers do to him?"
            "That's even more interesting," she said.
            "Why is that?"
            "They let him live."
            "Do you remember his name?"
            "They wanted money for a sewing machine."
            I considered that this boy might somehow be involved with the sewing machine, so I pursued this possible connection. But it led nowhere. The boy and the sewing machine were separated by years, yet they seemed to share space in Babciu's brain. I began to wonder why Father Griegul wanted me to know about this boy. Had he been someone the priest had known? A boyhood friend? Or was he just curious? Father said he had known my family's name in Poland. Was there more? And as a little Catholic boy during the war, would he have risked contact with a Jewish boy? Last, could I directly ask him any of these questions?
            The following Saturday I returned to Our Lady of Czestochowa. The confessional light was on but there was already a penitent. I could hear her sobbing in Polish, her voice echoing through the vault of the church. I entered the other side of the confessional, knelt, and waited for Father to finish with the woman. After several minutes the little screen opened."Go on," said Father, and I caught a whiff of alcohol.
            "It's me."
            "What did you find out?"
            "That the little boy was a Jew and that the Germans didn't hurt him."
            "That's correct," said Father. "The boy was an orphan and the Germans, I suppose, assumed that the war would consume him anyway. Are you writing all this down?"
            "Yes, Father," I said as I scribbled on my pad. "But how did you learn this story?"
            "Quiet. Listen to me. Ask your Babciu if she knows what happened to the boy. Tell her the priest from Our Lady of Czestochowa wants to know."
            "All right, Father, but it's really hard to get past the sewing machine."
            "The hell with the sewing machine. Just ask her."
            I leaned closer to the screen. "Father, you seem to already know the answers to these questions."
            I could hear him breathing heavily on the other side. "Go on."
            I girded myself.  "Please forgive me, Father, but did you…did you know that little boy?"
            "And do you know what happened to him?"
            "Are you writing everything down?"
            "Good.  I know what he did and what happened to him."
            "Please tell me."
            "Ask your Babciu."
            "Please tell me."
            "Ask her."
            I didn't get up right away. I sensed that there was something else Father Griegul wanted to say. He finally rasped, "You seem to think that this happened in Lublin. Either you or your babciu are mistaken. It was in a nearby village.  Czerniejow." As if to insure that there would be no error, he slowly spelled this out for me. Then he turned away and slid the screen closed. That night I dreamed of the very scene Babciu had described. I saw the village, the surrounding woods, and the barn. A little dark-haired boy was pointing to the barn as soldiers kindled a flame. Not only the barn, but the entire scene was consumed by the conflagration. I awoke in a sweat. Not because of the image, or the cries coming from the barn, but because I suddenly felt that I knew that boy too, although in my dream he had his back to me. 
            Babciu must have been surprised to see me again so soon. Or maybe she wasn't. Perhaps to her I seemed to always be there. I don't know. She looked at me as if I were vaguely familiar. I decided not to give her any opportunity to relate the sewing machine story. "Babciu," I said, "the little Jewish boy. What happened to him?"   
            She looked away and began to roll her lower lip repeatedly against her gums. "I don't know."
            "What was his name?"
            "He didn't have a name."
            "Babciu, he must have. Please think."
            "He became a priest."
            "Babciu, that's impossible. He was Jewish."
            "He became a priest."
            "Babciu, the priest from Our Lady of Czestochowa wants to know about the boy."
            "Was that his name?"
            "Yakov became a priest."
            "Do you mean 'rabbi,' Babciu? Jewish people become rabbis."
            She turned to me and her eyes softened. "Maybe he became a rabbi," she said. And then, "They wanted me to send them money for a sewing machine, but I said no, I'll send you the sewing machine but not the money."
            I had written down everything Babciu had told me, but I now realized little of it made sense. I believed that there was a Jewish boy and that he played some role in the murder of her family. Father Griegul had corroborated this. But the boy's becoming a priest? How could she come up with something like that? Father said he knew the boy's fate. Then why wouldn't he tell me?
            I finally told my parents what I had involved myself in. First of all, they were thrilled that I was visiting Babciu. "Did she tell you the sewing machine story?" asked my father.
            "No," I said.  "Not a word."
            "Gee," said my father, scratching his head. "Maybe she's recovering her marbles."
            "I think she has most of her marbles. It's just that her record is scratched and has a few skips in it."
            My parents smiled. "That's a creative and caring way to put it," said my mom. "Maybe you'll be a writer some day."
            I told them how I had been recording everything. "Did you know this terrible story about our family?" I asked my father. He suddenly looked weary. "Yes, I knew."
            "Why didn't you tell me?"
            "You never showed a stick of interest in your forebears," he said. "You never asked a single question. Now that you're interested, I'll tell you everything I know."
            He was right. I had never played the family genealogist. But  now I wanted to catch up. I mentioned the enigma of the boy. My father nodded. "Yes," he said. "When I was small Babciu used to tell me about this boy. I think he was an orphan, but on his own, living in the woods for the most part."
            "Do you know what happened to him?"
            "He survived the war. We know that. I remember something about his being hidden by a family worried the Germans would return for him."
            "A Jewish family?"    
            "No," said my father. "All the Jewish families had long been moved out. This family was Catholic."
            I felt my heart catch in my throat. "Catholic?" I echoed. "Are you sure?"
            "Yes," said my father. "They changed the boy's name. I don't know what it was before…"
            "Yakov," I erupted.
            "Maybe. But they changed it to Czeslaw."
            "What a name."
            "Yes," said my father. "It sounds more appealing in English. Chester."
            My God.
            My mind was racing. Without any forethought I hurried down to Our Lady of Czestochowa. But when I arrived the time for confessions was over. I looked toward the rectory but every window was dark. I considered going to the door and rousing Father, but I decided it was just as well to speak with him the next day, once I had calmed down. I sensed, with palpable sorrow, that our meetings were coming to an end. Neither did I expect to ever be called to drive him to the funeral home again. I felt as if I were preparing myself for a death.
            I'm glad I waited a day before speaking with Father again. After my conversation with my parents my head was spinning with the conclusions I had drawn. My sleep was fitful, but those few hours had allowed my brain to sort things out, draw some distance, gain some perspective. When I entered the confessional the next day I no longer felt like beating down the door of the rectory.
            "Go on."
            I told Father what I had learned about the Jewish boy. He verified every detail. "Why did you make this into a riddle?" I begged.
            "I needed to know how much your babciu remembered. She's very old. Maybe her age had been kind and erased her pain. But now you've told me what I need to know. That there may be a flicker of remembrance. This is very difficult for me."
            "Father, I don't see why you became a priest. Forgive me, but you don't seem to have any of the virtues one would expect." I stopped and began to excuse myself.
            "Don't," he said. "Now I will stop the riddling. Are you writing this down? Many years ago I did one small thing. It was just a gesture. I pointed. That's all it took to destroy a family. The Germans ordered me and I was scared, so I told them. As for the priesthood, penance must be performed."
            "I don't understand."
            "I couldn't bear to go to a priest to ask for absolution. I did the thing that was most distasteful to me and that would cause me the most pain and remorse for the rest of my life. I knew I wasn't suited for it. But every year, as I became more and more despondent, I recommitted myself. Some people use whips or wear a hair shirt. That's nothing, because hat kind of pain passes. I decided to put on the priesthood and never know a moment's peace."
            "But penance is supposed to make us feel better."
            "Keep writing."
            "Are you writing?"
            "I once read a poem in which the poet was trying to describe a murdered child's blood running into the street. Do you know what he compared it to?"
            I told him that I didn't.
            "He said it was like the blood of a child running into the street. Do you see?  What penance on earth could make me, as you say, feel better? There is none. My penance is never-ending. My penance is my inability to seek absolution."
            I was suddenly overwhelmed with pity for Father Griegul. I didn't blame him for anything. Forgiveness wasn't even an issue, because I felt that it was not my place to forgive. "I wish I could say something," I told him.
            "You are. You're writing all this down."
            "Will I see you again?"
            "You may see me, but we will have no interaction. No more conversations. Don't you understand? If we were to develop a friendship, that would be a form of absolution, or at least a way of easing my penance, because I would like your friendship very much. That's why I'm going to deny myself."
            "Penance must be performed. Go in peace. In the name of the Father…"
            I walked the three miles back to my home. My heart was so heavy. The neighborhoods I passed through were dark and threatening, but I wasn't afraid. Now and then my tears welled up. Not for Babciu or her family or the general calamity of the war or the traumatized Jewish boy who feared for his life, but strictly, purely for Father Griegul. Everyone else in this chapter was at rest, even Babciu in her clouded mind, still proud of her judgment in not sending money to Poland but shrewdly offering to send the sewing machine itself, knowing it wasn't what the relatives were after. Only Father Griegul continued in torment. On some level I saw the justice in it, as he did; but on second reflection I was angry that he had inflicted such a fate upon himself and now it was too late for him to gain release. He was waiting only for death.
            The days passed. Slowly, gradually, I put my written notes in order, to get everything in a straight line. I didn't know what I would do with the final product, if anything. It was important to my family, and that's all that seemed to matter. In a quiet moment I laid everything out for my parents. To my great relief the only thing they felt for Father Griegul was compassion. "No need to mention this to anyone else," said my father. I agreed.
            I felt that, for me, I would not find closure until I paid Babciu one last visit before returning to school three states away. Not to tell her what I had found out — that would be cruel if, in a moment of lucidity, she were able to comprehend it — but simply to reassure myself that I had not upset her in any way. And so, on the day before I was due back at college, I went to her room, but I could get no farther than the threshold. That's where I froze and caught my breath when I saw Father Griegul kneeling before Babciu's wheelchair, his head in her lap. He was weeping like a child, while Babciu stared blankly beyond him, her Parkinson's hand trembling upon his shoulder. Ever so quietly, lest he should hear me, I mouthed, "I absolve thee."


Robert Klose teaches at the University of Maine.  He is a regular contributor of essays to The Christian Science Monitor.  His work has also appeared in NewsweekThe Boston Globe, and various literary magazines.  His books include “Adopting Alyosha — A Single Man Finds a Son in Russia,” “Small Worlds — Adopted Sons, Pet Piranhas and Other Mortal Concerns," "The Three-Legged Woman & Other Excursions in Teaching," "Adopting Anton — A Single Man Seeks a Son in Ukraine," and the novels, "Long Live Grover Cleveland," which won a 2016 Ben Franklin Literary Award and a USA BookNews Award, and "Life on Mars," which was a Finalist for a 2019 Best Book Award sponsored by American Book Fest and was also a Finalist in the International Book Awards and American Fiction Awards.  His latest novel, "Trigger Warning," was published by Open Books in September 2023.


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