A Relatively Modest (If I Say So Myself) Promotional Article on My Just-About-to-Be- Published Novel “Today, Oh Boy” in Which I Compare It to Joyce’s “Ulysses” and the Paintings of the Flemish Master Pieter Breughel the Elder[1]

Painting of the cover of Today, Oh Boy by David Boatwright

My novel Today, Oh Boy, which is supposed to appear in early September of 2022, takes place during the daylight hours of Monday 12 October 1970 in Summerville, South Carolina. The title comes from the Beatle classic “A Day in the Life” as does the epigraph of Book 1, “Surfaces” –

And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh.

Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

A mango-hued, pockmarked bulletin board hangs on a classroom wall of pale lime green concrete blocks, the bulletin board pencil-stabbed and compass point-gouged. Among the graffiti are the names of the star-crossed lovers: Sandy + Tripp. Tragic Tripp, whose body was found last week tangled in blackberry bushes along the banks of the Ashley River, his skull smashed after falling off Bacons Bridge.

S-A-N-D-Y + T-R-I-P-P.

Rusty Boykin, a skinny, freckled redhead sitting on the bulletin board row in Mrs. Laban’s homeroom, traces his index finger in the depression of Sandy’s name. He supposes it’s Tripp’s work – the letters inartistic, juvenile. Sandy hasn’t been to school since Tripp’s death, four class days ago, and now it’s Monday, and she’s still not here. She should be sitting right in front of Rusty, her honey-colored hair hanging like a curtain to her waist.

For Rusty and his friends Alex Jensen and Will Waring, Tripp’s death, though “rather sad,” is less than heartbreaking because he was a belligerent bully with a ferocious temper. Despite that the word “tragic” appears in its second sentence, Today, Oh Boy is a comic novel.

Now, no way am I comparing this trifle of mine to Joyce’s Ulysses; however, I got the idea of writing it after listening to a 38-cd audio version of Joyce’s novel, that is, the idea of writing a novel that features one day in the life of a community with a wide cross-section of citizens. The chapter of Ulysses that especially intrigued me has come to be known as “Wandering Rocks.”

Here’s Julia Galeota’s summary from the Yale University’s Campus Press website:

“The Wandering Rocks,” the tenth episode of James Joyce‘s Ulysses relates the activities of citizens in the streets of Dublin between three and four o’clock. Composed exclusively of nineteen short vignettes that feature collectively nearly all of the characters of Ulysses, this tenth of Joyce’s eighteen episodes “is both an entr’acte between the two halves and a miniature of the whole” (Blamires 93).

Here’s a snippet, the last paragraph of “Wandering Rocks”:

Thither of the wall the quartermile flat handicappers, M. C. Green, H. Thrift, T. M. Patey, C. Scaife, J. B. Jeffs, G. N. Morphy, F. Stevenson, C. Adderly, and W. C. Huggard started in pursuit. Striding past Finn’s hotel, Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell stared through a fierce eyeglass across the carriages at the head of Mr E. M. Solomons in the window of the Austro-Hungarian viceconsulate. Deep in Leinster street, by Trinity’s postern, a loyal king’s man, Horn-blower, touched his tallyho cap. As the glossy horses pranced by Merrion square Master Patrick Aloysius Dignam, waiting, saw salutes being given to the gent with the topper and raised also his new black cap with fingers greased by porksteak paper. His collar too sprang up. The viceroy, on his way to inaugurate the Mirus bazaar in aid of funds for Mercer’s hospital, drove with his following towards Lower Mount street. He passed a blind stripling Opposite Broadbent’s. In Lower Mount street a pedestrian in a brown macintosh, eating dry bread, passed swiftly and unscathed across the viceroy’s path. At the Royal Canal bridge, from his hoarding, Mr Eugene Stratton, his blub lips agrin, bade all comers welcome to Pembroke township. At Haddington road corner two sanded women halted themselves, an umbrella and a bag in which eleven cockles rolled to view with wonder the lord mayor and lady mayoress without his golden chain. On Northumberland and Landsdowne roads His Excellency acknowledged punctually salutes from rare male walkers, the salute of two small schoolboys at the garden gate of the house said to have been admired by the late queen when visiting the Irish capital with her husband, the prince consort, in 1849, and the salute of Almidano Artifoni’s sturdy trousers swallowed by a closing door.

And my pale imitation:

On the north side of South Carolina Highway 17-A just around a curve from a two-story high school, a redheaded sixteen-year-old boy in a silk-screened blue jean jacket walks backward with his thumb thrust out. Inside the school, another sixteen-year-old boy, this one dark-haired and wearing wirerimmed glasses, translates a passage from Don Quixote. A mile and a half to the east as the crow flies, a basset hound[2] with a red collar zigzags his way toward Bacons Bridge Road, a route that merges with Highway 61, crosses the Ashley River, then runs parallel to the river through a scenic tunnel of moss-draped oaks where antebellum plantations and gardens attract tourists in the spring. Meanwhile in one of the growing housing developments just outside the quaint town of Summerville, a middle-aged woman in a pink robe fills a tomato-stained glass with tap water and leaves it in the sink. Back at the school, a younger, plumper woman chastises a hyper Jewish kid with braces. Another set of ancient oaks embower a driveway where a maroon VW bus and a white VW bug follow one another out onto Carolina Avenue in the verdant heart of Old Summerville. Back at the school, two students are putting their art supplies away in anticipation of the end of class while a red Mustang hurtles in the opposite direction of—and past—the redheaded hitchhiker. The Mustang slams on brakes, does a screeching, tire-smoking 180, and slides to a stop in the opposite lane. Startled, the redheaded boy does a nervous little Chaplinesque dance as electricity whiplashes in a rush up his spine. He suddenly realizes that it’s her car, hears her New Jersey accent calling his name, asking him where he’s headed, inviting him to hop on in, and he begins to run toward the passenger side door. Around the curve at the school, a series of electric bells go

RRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNG!!!

and a tall, slender math student picks up her things to head to English while on the first floor directly under her classroom, an orange-haired typist clumsily removes a sheet of onion paper from a typewriter that has seen better days.

A couple of pre-publication readers, the brilliant Cintra Wilson the most prominent, complained that despite that the novel’s funny and stylistically sophisticated, it suffers from an overload of characters and too many sudden shifts, though sudden shifts shouldn’t, I would think, bother readers who grew up on Sesame Street. After all, Book 1 is called “Surfaces,” which attempts to provide portraitures of the classes of people who made up Late 60s Summerville High – jocks; a handful of selected African Americans; college prep kids, non-college-bound home economics, shop, and agriculture students; a small but ascendant number of “hippies;” and the teachers who taught them – which brings to mind the paintings of my artistic hero Pieter Breughel the Elder who overloaded his canvases with a glut of personages. You could also say that about my Photoshopped faux paintings.

At any rate, I hope you buy the novel and more importantly enjoy it. We’re in the process of planning a launch at Buxton’s Books and hope to have events at independent Summerville bookstores as well.


[1] I must have fallen asleep during the writing-workshop lesson on crafting brisk, attention-grabbing titles. By the way, in case you suffer from Irony Deficiency, that I used a first-person pronoun four times in the title playfully suggests that the article will not be modest.

[2] The basset hound, Hambone Odysseus Macy, is off on an epic adventure of his own. He’s later picked up from the side of the road by Alex Jensen who rechristens him Mr. Peabody after the erudite dog from the Bullwinkle cartoon. References to comic figures abound in the novel. In fact, one of the teachers, Colonel Claude Toby Dukenfield, shares the same name with WC Fields, on whom he based.


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