Runt: Memories of a Dyslexic Bastard by Ray Shoop


Runt: Memories of a Dyslexic Bastard

Author: Ray Shoop

This is a powerful novel that brings to light many important and vital areas that were prevalent back in the 1940’s when this novel takes place and even now in 2009. Children emulate their parents. They revere them and want their acceptance when they do something right and their understanding and guidance when they do something wrong. But, when verbal and physical abuse is the main forms of teaching a child right from wrong, you have the parents and family of George Woodrum or the Runt. With a father that belittled him every step of the way and brothers that enjoyed making him feel slow and dumb, George had no chance of success and little feelings of self-worth.

Trying to complete the tasks his father wanted him to do and trying to not get in trouble, he often faltered and if not for his niece Bee, his closest ally and friend he would have had no one in his life to confide in and make him feel special. With a close bond, closer than two children should have, they managed to withstand the abuse, neglect and beatings that George became accustomed to on an almost a daily basis.

Added to this George had even more obstacles to overcome. He had difficulty in school and learning to read was something that he never learned to do. Being dyslexic does not mean you cannot learn nor does it mean that you are smart. It just means that when you see words and letters you do not see them the same way that others do and many people that are brilliant and smart struggle with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning problem that both adults and children have making it difficult to read and spell.

Children and adults with dyslexia need special reading specialists to work, assess and plan a special program to help them learn to read. Often feeling angry, frustrated and sad because they are having such difficulty is normal, but in this case, George’s situation was left undiagnosed and not addressed by his teacher, Ms. Ellenwood or his parents who really did not seem to care. Whether he went to school or not or behaved or did not, he received nothing but ridicule and beatings for his lack of success or poor performance or behaviors both in school and at home. Who would want to go to school to be made to feel stupid, unwanted and not worth the help of the person who is there to address the needs of all of the students in the class. Added to the mix is a family that is totally dysfunctional with family members that had their own issues and private grievances.

With two older sisters with failed marriages and husbands that either cheated on them, or wound up out of work or worse, they came to live under the same roof as The Old Man and Beth as his father was referred to and his mother. However, if the abuse that he encountered from his family was not bad enough, he had the stigma of being referred to as a Bastard. When a woman has a child out of wedlock and does not marry the father, the child is referred to as a bastard. How, awful is that. All of his life Runt or George was referred to by that name and only when he got older did he realize what it really meant. Not only that, but his sister was not that innocent and his niece Bee was considered one too. How horrific and how wrong is to take out the transgressions of an adult on an innocent child who was not responsible for how he/she was conceived and who his/her parents were. Added to that the truth about his father’s birth and more will enlighten the reader.

Throughout his young life and those of his family members, George Woodrum felt like an outsider in his family. Only wanting to contribute his share and be included when jobs were given out and not reduced to the demeaning job of washing and scratching his father’s feet and bringing him beers, helps the reader feel warmth and compassion for this really kind, understanding and compassionate young man.

What the end result is will surprise the reader. When The Old Man squanders his pension money and does not pay his bills for his home, the family loses everything and is forced to move into cramped quarters and everyone has to pitch in and work. But, school never gets better for him and a one-room schoolhouse, which is where he went for most of his time in school, made it more difficult for him and other students to learn. Teachers are trained to work with all of their pupils. Back then, many had no idea how to work with those with learning disabilities and these children fell by the wayside or just dropped out and got menial jobs. What does happen to give his family a wakeup call will bring tears to your eyes. What does happen at the end to his family and to him will let you know that the apple does not fall far from the tree and children of abused families and who are abused are often abusive parents too.

The sad part is that he never got a hug or a kiss from his mother or father. Even sadder is the ending and how he feels or does not feel when his parents are gone. What does happen to him and his niece you will have to read for yourself. As an educator I became angry at the way he and other students were treated by all of the teachers. No one bothered to address his learning needs and I bet if taught with the proper methods and instruction that are geared to dyslexics he would have learned to read and excelled.

This is strong novel that brings to light how important it is for parents to be mindful of their children’s feelings and needs. It is novel that focuses on a family that was anything but a unit and whose members fought for their own personal survival. A brother who went off to war and kept coming home with another girlfriend and his own illegitimate child. Two sisters who had troubles in their own lives and marriages. The word Bastard has many definitions. You decide whether the meaning should just refer to a child born out of wedlock, or the person who mistreats an innocent child just because he is different. Just how many characters in this story fit either definition?

I do not give stars when I review a book. I give George Five Hugs and Five Words: Special, Kindhearted, Loving, Smart and Understanding. They truly are who you are and more.

Fran Lewis; reviewer

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