Themes and Characters
John Conlan's father and mother, whom he has dubbed Bore and Hyper respectively, are more than forty years older than John. His mother is a compulsive cleaner, while his father, a former alcoholic with heart trouble, wants John to join him and John's older brother Ken at the Exchange. The Conlans appear worn out as parents and irritated by John's youthful imagination, and they wish he were grown up and out of the house. John, meanwhile, does his best to justify this irritation. John's ambition to become an actor does not meet with his parents' approval, and his flamboyance contrasts with his parents' conformity.
Lorraine Jensen's mother, a nurse who specializes in the care of dying cancer patients, steals from the families she helps and has a morbid fear of men, probably because her former husband abandoned her several years earlier. Lorraine's insecurities stem from Mrs. Jensen's constant nagging and devastating remarks about Lorraine's appearance. Lorraine's interest in writing and psychology arises from an attempt to understand her mother and her own situation.
Norton Kelly, another important character, is John and Lorraine's age. He enjoys thievery and inflicting cruelty on others, probably because he feels rejected himself. Norton and John are both outsiders, but they hate each other. Norton wants to steal from Mr. Pignati and hopes to use John as an informer against the old man. Norton's anger over not being invited to the party at Mr....
(The entire section is 523 words.)
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John Conlan is a fifteen-year-old high-school sophomore who lives in Staten Island, New York, and is best friends with Lorraine Jensen, another student. He is good-looking, charming, and highly intelligent, but is bored with school and with life in general, and his humorless, joyless family life doesn't help. His father, known as "The Bore" to John, is a broker on the coffee exchange. The Bore is interested only in money and stocks, and urges John to get a similar job on the exchange as soon as he's able. John says, "I've been over to the Exchange and seen all the screaming and barking the Bore has to do just to earn a few bucks, and if he thought I was going to have any part of that madhouse, he had another thing coming."
John is also dismayed by his father's stressful lifestyle, and comments, "He's almost sixty years old, and I know he's not going to be around much longer. All the guys on the Exchange drop dead of heart attacks." John's father is oblivious to his son's lack of interest in finance, or to his creative talent, and responds with "Don't be a jackass" when John tells him he wants to be an actor. John's mother is an anxious, obsessively clean woman whose perfectionism fills up her whole life. Both of his parents constantly extol the virtues of his older brother, Kenneth, who is eleven years older than John and who works on the Exchange, just like John's father. John's life at home is hedged in by rules: his mother tells him what to eat and...
(The entire section is 560 words.)
Lorraine Jensen is a fifteen-year-old high-school sophomore who lives in the same Staten Island neighborhood as John Conlan, her best friend. She is intelligent and thoughtful, is interested in psychology, and wants to be a writer. She moved into John's neighborhood at the beginning of freshman year, and the first few weeks were torture for her. She was depressed and isolated because she didn't know anyone, and she was shy and insecure about her looks. She met John on the bus, when he sat next to her one day and started laughing. At first she was offended, thinking he was laughing at her, but then she began laughing, too, and from that day on, they were friends.
Lorraine calls herself "paranoid," because she's worried that others don't think much of her, but this is clearly a response to the way her mother has always treated her. Her mother has always told her how ugly and clumsy she is, and at the same time, repeatedly warns her about the evil intentions of men and boys and tells her never to be alone with them. Perhaps because of her sensitivity, she is very compassionate toward others, particularly people she perceives as underdogs. Her compassion is unusual among teenagers; for example, she writes movingly of a poor teacher who keeps her elderly and ill mother in the living room of her apartment, and about Mr. Pignati, whose wife has died.
(The entire section is 237 words.)
See Mr. Conlan
John Conlan's father, whom John calls "the Bore," works on the Coffee Exchange on Wall Street, and his life is totally subsumed in his job. His son says, "If he sells more than two hundred lots in a day, he's in a good mood. Anything less than that, and there's trouble." He is bothered by his son's apparent flightiness and his creative and disobedient streak, and notices only his superficial qualities, such as his long hair and his constant wisecracking humor. He doesn't see his son as he is—creative, intelligent, and talented—but wants to force him into a mold and remake him as a carbon copy of himself. He tells John, "At your age I was working hard, not floundering around in a fool's dream world."
Mr. Conlan was a compulsive drinker for most of John's childhood, and encouraged John to drink, too. When John was a toddler and young boy, his father would give him sips of beer at parties, and everyone present would laugh as he downed them. "A chip off the old block," Mr. Conlan said proudly, making it seem like drinking was a sign of manhood. Mr. Conlan was eventually diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and had to quit drinking, but by that time his son was used to alcohol and kept drinking. Of course, ironically, Mr. Conlan still doesn't think of him as a man.
John Conlan's mother, whom John calls "hyper" and...
(The entire section is 1278 words.)