Oliver Pepper’s Pickle (ISBN: 978-1-60381-857-5, 288 pp., $14.95), by award-winning playwright John C. Picardi, is a novel about a New York City prep school teacher whose comically messy life comes together when he starts teaching in an urban public school.
Pick of the Week—Boston Sunday Globe (10/23/2011):
“Caitlin Doggart of Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore in Chatham recommends Oliver Pepper’s Pickle by John C. Picardi (Camel): ‘In this vibrant, funny, and heartfelt novel, a self-described ‘boring’ 36-year-old ‘privileged white man’ named Oliver Pepper endures a stretch of failures before he’s hired as a substitute teacher in a violent New York City middle school. His new job begins as a way to catch the eye of the sexy principal but becomes an unexpected boost to Mr. Pepper as he influences his students in surprising ways.”
“The book has a comfortable, compelling rhythm. It’s an interesting one-man study of how parents and childhood experiences can have an enduring affect on later lives, and how it’s possible for even the most distorted of human beings to find salvation in self-examination and hope for the future. An amusing read, Oliver Pepper’s Pickle serves up both extremely light and extremely heavy moments until the very end.” Read more ….
–Leia Menlove, ForeWord Reviews
Click here to read an article about John and his book in the Patriot-Ledger.
** Buy Oliver Pepper at your local bookstore or click the cover image to order **
Says Kate Christensen, Winner of the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction: “Oliver Pepper Pickle is the story of a man who bellies up to the bar of self-loathing self-destructiveness and is pulled instead, in spite of himself, into a brave new world—friends emerging from closets, fish-sauce-flavored Thanksgivings, special-needs ghetto kids at the Met, growing new sets of balls … It’s a touching love story that will make you spit out your food laughing when you least expect it. John C. Picardi is an original.”
“Who hasn’t wanted to step into the mind of a beloved teacher?” says Paul Lisicky, Author of Lawnboy and The Burning House. “With Oliver Pepper’s Pickle, you can do just that, with a guide who’s irreverent, kind, and smart – eager to wake you up to the world.”
“Picardi has created a delicate yet emotional story that sneaks up on you like a lovely relationship, evolving slowly and gracefully, ‘peppered’ with hope and despair, and above all, humanity,” says Steven Cooper, Author of Deadline and Saving Valencia. “Picardi reveals his characters so subtly, so artfully, that suddenly you realize they are a part of your family. I loved this book.”
First-time novelist Picardi has received lavish praise for his work as a playwright. Here is a sampling:
“Often humorous, eventually gripping,” wrote Lawrence Van Gelder in the New York Times. “Mr. Picardi renders his characters timeless.”’
“Picardi’s comedy-drama … has plenty of laughs along with a gut-wrenching emotional wallop,” wrote LA Times critic F. Kathleen Foley of Picardi’s play, The Sweepers.
Oliver Pepper leads a simple life. Each night he can be found sitting alone, taking nips from his flask, in a cluttered study he alone finds appealing. His contemplation ends abruptly when his wife reveals an extended cyber-affair and he is fired from his job teaching Art History at a girls’ prep school. Crushed by his wife’s infidelity, suffocated by his sister and her new-age boyfriend, and harassed by all the friends and strangers who think his salvation depends on a crazy self-help book—The Castration of the 20th Century Man: How to Grow a New Set for the 21st Century—Oliver Pepper’s life is in comic disarray. Then, at an AA meeting, he meets Rosa, a sexy public school principal. Hoping to date her, he agrees to teach a riotous middle-school class. At Rosa’s school, Oliver meets two troubled boys. By helping them, he comes to terms with the traumatic death of his father and discovers a capacity for bringing unadulterated goodness—even beauty—into his world.
“When I taught in New York,” says Picardi, “I would walk to work from York Avenue to 86th Street, passing a well-known private girls’ school. Each morning I saw a man in a very fine tailored suit entering the school. He seemed curiously strange to me—he appeared proper, stoic, always preoccupied. He reminded me of Chauncey Gardiner, the odd and fun character in Jerzy Kosinski’s classic novel, Being There. It didn’t matter who he was; I imagined him as an art teacher at this fancy girls’ school. He was Mr. Chips! He was going to be in my book.”
John C. Picardi is the author of the awarding winning play, The Sweepers, and Seven Rabbits on a Pole. His plays are published by Samuel French and have been produced off-Broadway and across the United States. He is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, where he majored in Culinary Arts. He later graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Boston with a degree in English and Creative Writing and earned an MFA from Carnegie Mellon University. He lives in Massachusetts. Click here to access John’s website and here to read his blog.
Oliver Pepper’s Pickle is available in Kindle ($5.95) and paperback editions on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon Japan, and at select Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores. Bookstores and libraries can order by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or through Ingram. Other electronic versions can be purchased on Smashwords, BN.com or at any of the major online eBook stores.
Keep reading for excerpts:
I stopped on the stairwell. Fired fired fired fired! It ran through my head. It swallowed me up. I went up to the library. Piper Bergman was reading Memoirs of a Geisha. She stood up upon seeing me. Her deep brown eyes scanned me; she shifted her lower jaw.
“I wanted to come by and say goodbye,” I said. I told her what had happened, and she promised she would harass Amy Cumberland in her Library Science class. I thanked her for that.
Miss Bergman’s eyes had pity in them; she took my hand and brought me to a small back room filled with old books. She locked the door behind us. The sun streamed through a small single window, and dust mites danced in its beam. Miss Bergman’s face was half lit. I kept my eyes on her as she slipped off her dress, and I whispered, “God!” She came toward me, her body half in darkness and the other half lit in the right places, mainly her lovely breasts and full hips.
I felt the Castration book in my back pocket. It was pressing against my butt, nagging at me, saying to me, “Pull me out and read me.”
Then I thought about the sex I just had. I felt guilty. Was it my Catholic upbringing? Had I objectified a woman whom I respected? Had she objectified me? Why was the sex so animalistic?
I felt weird. Was it that book that was stirring all these raw emotions in me. Beth. Damn Beth!
Then the sun broke though, and sparkled so brightly through the branches I was blinded. A hopeful sight, yet so incongruous, because I was shivering uncontrollably, horrified at the reality that I’d been cuckolded, dumped, and canned. I opened my briefcase, took out the silver flask, and examined it carefully. How awfully clever I’d thought I was being when I’d bought it! It was unusually small, as far as flasks go, but large enough for my needs. I never dreamed that this lovely little silver flask—my friend the flask—would become the vessel of my disgrace.
During the day I watched television. My favorite show was The Price Is Right. At first, I thought the show ridiculous, but after a while, I actually enjoyed it. I played along and did not like to miss my program. I guessed the prices, and when I was wrong, I’d throw my slippers or any handy item at the television screen. I gave myself bonus points if I hit Bob Barker’s face. Sometimes I read my art books. Other times, now that I’d discovered the many uses of the Internet, I’d go online and enter chat rooms. That didn’t last long, after I accidentally entered a site for men who enjoyed having sex with butchered whole goats. (There was an entire page about where to buy the goat, too; some place in Queens where they kept the innards intact if asked.) It made me vomit. This was a good thing because afterwards I didn’t feel so bad about eating my second family size tray of Stouffers Macaroni and Cheese and a pan of brownies and a package of Kaiser Rolls and half a jar of Marshmallow fluff.
As I passed the diner on the corner of Eighty-Sixth and York, I saw Rosa sitting alone eating a dessert glass filled with red JELL-O and taking quick sips from a mug. Seeing her eat JELL-O was reassuring. If we became an item, maybe I wouldn’t have to hide the fact that I like fried Spam on toast. I stopped for a brief moment to look at her. She took a mouthful of the JELL-O and examined a chart, keeping the spoon in her mouth. She checked things off and wrote quickly. She must be working on some sort of project. I wanted to go in and talk to her, but I couldn’t. I felt insecure and awkward. Would she think I was stalking her?
I lay in bed staring at the ceiling. I had put a pillow behind my bed board to make sure it didn’t bang against the wall anymore. I then contemplated whether to eat a bagel loaded with cream cheese or an English muffin thickly spread with peanut butter. Or maybe I should sleep directly through to lunchtime and order pizza. I listened to the rainstorm outside, along with the noisy confusion that comes with a rainy day in New York: an overabundance of car horns and the extensive cries of bus engines.
1. The absolutely, positively horrifying experience of teaching at Rosa’s school for those two weeks was worse than:
a) My mother’s pyromania
b) My circumstances of my father’s death
c) My former wife’s nymphomania
d) My best friend’s cuckolding me
e) Being fired from the finest teaching position in the City
f) Having to spend so much time with Ralph
g) All of the above
The correct answer is G.