Saturday, October 16, 2010

So Much Unfairness Of Things, June 2 1962

Dad's room on the second floor of Memorial Hall at Episcopal High School

The New Yorker published my dad's short story "So Much Unfairness Of Things" while he was still stationed at Fort Lewis. It's about a student in a private school who is faced with the problem of whether or not to cheat on a Latin exam.
It's been on required reading lists for high school students for decades.
As David A Sohn writes in his introduction for the book Ten Top Stories ( which also featured Flowers for Algernon):
"The atmosphere of the private school and the tension of the examination are created with great power and skill by the author. An extremely vivid reading experience, reflecting an unusual writing talent."
As stated in an earlier entry, my grandfather felt the story shamed him publicly by making him seem distant and out of touch.

"P.S. was the fifteenth of his family to attend the Virginia Preparatory School...When P.S. was packing to begin his first year at the school his father had sad "Son, when your great-grandfather went off to V.P.S., his father gave him a dozen silk handkerchiefs and a pair of warm gloves. When I went off to V.P.S., your grandfather gave me a dozen silk handkerchiefs and a pair of warm gloves. And now here are a dozen silk handkerchiefs and a pair of warm gloves for you."
Grandpa Joe and my father in a photo that Dad thought symbolized their relationship

P.S. looked at the brightly patterned Liberty-silk handkerchiefs and the fuzzy red mittens. No thirteen-year old ever wore red mittens, except girls, and particularly not fuzzy red mittens. And P.S. knew he wouldn't dare to wear the silk handkerchiefs.
"Well, thank you very much Dad," he said.
"That's all right, son."

When the novel P.S. Wilkinson came out my Dad told reporter Nora Ephron that the short story was based on a real life incident. He was kicked out of Episcopal High School for cheating on a Latin Test.

If you're interested in reading "So Much Unfairness Of Things", here is a link in PDF form.

The New Yorker link


  1. Greetings,
    I attended Woodberry Forest in Orange, VA for my freshman and sophomore years. They sent me on an exchange to all girl Emma Willard in the third trimester of my sophomore year, and I never went back.
    When I arrived at Woodberry in the fall of '76, one of the first things they did was conduct a series of group sessions, focused on your dad's story. I've never seen it since, and still (the New Yorker wants you to pay, and your PDF is dead), but it always stuck with me. I've taught for twenty years and I've always spoken of it, whether explicitly or implicitly. Made a huge impression on a fourteen year old. And was published in the New Yorker in the second issue after my birth. Just wanted to share.GFS []
    Bit of a shock that he was an Episcopal boy, but I was never into the rivalry at all.

  2. Thanks. My dad would be so pleased to read your comment.

  3. How may I obtain a copy of the story? I would very much like to read it.
    Thank you.

  4. How may I obtain a copy of the story? I would very much like to read it.
    Thank you.

  5. Thanks for blogging about this story. SUOT has been a favorite short story of mine for years. What always struck me about it was that the final meeting between the boy and his father was not longer or more emotional. It reinforced the alienation which existed between them. Still, I had always hoped that a sequel story would be written about the confrontation with his family where P.S. (the boy) forces them to acknowledge that they never actually asked him whether he wanted to attend the school. I always that was a thread left hanging. Then again, such an insight might have limited the impact that SUOT had, which was considerable.

    Your dad's other works were equally meaningful, and I read quite a few of them. Even the surprising book, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.

    I hadn't heard he'd passed away. My condolences.

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  7. Thanks Lawrence. I suppose the novel P.S. Wilkinson is the sequel. It includes both "Unfairness" and another short story that digs a bit deeper into the father/son relationship. My grandfather thought all of it was extremely disrespectful.

  8. Have you ever considered making a movie out of it?...