In some family businesses, the accounting can be rather slipshod. Many of the figures might be stored in someone’s head, rather than on paper. Or on random slips stuffed in a cigar box. Or even scattered around an office. Maybe it’s just one of the hazards of being your own boss.
In my new novel, What’s Left, her grandfather, Stavros, continued some of that custom, but not nearly as much as his parents and their business partners, who happened to be siblings.
When her uncle Dimitri returns to town with a Masters of Business Administration in hand, he needs to get those numbers in order quickly if there’s to be anything of the restaurant and its investments for his brothers and sisters and himself to inherit. It’s a race with time, even before his parents die in their prime, victims of a late-night car crash.
From what Nita’s said, I’m sure Dimitri was putting in much less – formally, at least. My guess is that he was always thinking about our venture, and many of the social events he attended were primarily for schmoozing. I’d ask Barney, if he’d only answer his phone. And these days, whenever I run into him somewhere, I feel the brush-off. As for knocking on his door? Not as things stand now. Oh, well, maybe someday.
Maybe we’ll always have things we’re supposed to do but shrug off all the same. Put them aside, unfinished. Simply ignored them. And then there are the emotional blowups. (I’ve been accused of being stuck at age 14 or 17 on that front. What’s wrong with that?)
Have you ever wanted the adults in your life to be, well, more grown up? Like even answering your questions?
In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.
Decades ago, in selecting a Greek-American family as the closing destination of my first published novel, I imagined its circle of siblings as an embodiment of Western civilization – a bohemian counterbalance to the Tibetan Buddhism my hippie-dippy Dharma bum was carrying back to the American heartland. I intended the fusion of two non-mainstream cultures to suggest the rainbow of alternative lifestyles emerging in the late ’60s and early ’70s and the optimistic possibilities before us.
Frankly, some of what I wrote was semi-autobiographical. After an immersion in yoga practice on a small farm in the Pocono mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, I had returned to a rural corner of Ohio – a small town I call Prairie Depot in some later novels. While our yoga was Hindu-based, the teachings allowed me to explore an earlier interest in both Zen and Tibetan Buddhism – enough similarities exist for me to feel comfortable in that part of my story.
What still astonishes me, though, is my intuitive flash to make the family Greek. I vaguely sense my decision may have been based on a local family-owned restaurant that had undergone a similar tragedy, though I would have known little more than what I’ve just related. Only in the past half-dozen years have I begun to perceive how prevalent Greek immigrants and their descendants have been in the American experience, yet even when they’re as numerous as they are where I now live, their presence is nearly invisible to the general public.
I hope my newest novel, What’s Left, will change that perception.
One thing her great-grandparents Ilias and Maria introduce to my new novel, What’s Left, is the acknowledgement of how much of the family’s business success results from the members who’ve joined in freely, rather than been born into its tree.
Their daughter, Bella, certainly reinforces the triumph, as do Graham, Pia, Yin, and Cassia’s father a generation later.
So where will it go from there? Is there even really room for more? What if the new members don’t get along?
In recent years I learned that my own family history would have been much different if two of the wives had not conflicted with each other. Do you know of similar discord?
At one point, Cassia admits being a bit jealous of her brothers’ girlfriends. Have you ever felt the same?
In “Golden Age of Grease,” the second chapter of my new novel, What’s Left, I compress a background history of three generations that lead up to Cassia herself. Thanks to her father’s collected photographs and her aunt Nita’s guidance, she and her best friend forever, cousin Sandra, get a sense of what so attracted him to the entire family. What he saw when he arrived was his vision of an ideal hippie commune working around Carmichael’s, their landmark restaurant. Man, was he in for a surprise!
In my new novel, What’s Left, her great-grandparents parlay a hot dog shop into the purchase of a burger-and-fries joint at the edge of campus. Carmichael’s is a local landmark, even before her family takes over. And then they start buying up neighboring properties.
Her parents’ generation boldly sets out to enlarge on that base. They even buy out a dusty textbook store next door without quite knowing how it will fit into their business model.