Benny Finn, "No Matter What"

All this week at Atelier26, we're featuring daily posts in anticipation of the official November 12th release of Harriet Scott Chessman's luminously moving new novel, The Beauty of Ordinary Things.(By the way, Books Inc in Palo Alto will host a special publication day celebration!).    
For today's post, we offer an excerpt that is ample evidence for why the book has elicited such remarkably laudatory comments from wonderful writers like Ron Hansen, who calls it, "A soulful, tender, affecting novel, with complex, searching, sympathetic characters whose situations and plights one deeply cares about ... Wonderful."; Priscilla Gilman, for whom it is "a profoundly moving story of love's possibilities, powers, and consolations."; and Michelle Richmond, who urges: "Read this book; it will open your heart."

This section is from Chapter 2, "Benny Finn, Summer, 1974," in the narrative voice of Benny himself, a young Vietnam Vet still striving to find his bearings back home in Boston:  
One thing my mother always says, though: you have to live. No matter what, you live somehow. It used to surprise me, the way she’d say that. She’s a very good person. But she didn’t mean you shouldn’t care about the terrible things in the world, the blindness and corruption, the wars, just that in spite of it, you do have to get up mornings and pull on your boots, walk across the ice to your classes, get a cup of coffee, visit your Aunt Irene in the hospital, avoid getting your girlfriend pregnant. Who do you help by having a nervous breakdown?
In college I took an English course on recording your life. I wrote down some of the stories Mom always told about her childhood in Ireland, she and her big sister Irene managing chickens in the yard, plus minding about five hundred younger siblings. I wrote about our old priest Father Connaught, a really short man with these cauliflower ears, one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. And I wrote about the time these white guys in my high school jumped a black kid, Archer, who sat next to me in American History. They broke his nose, the shits, and I heard he almost lost his sight in one eye. They never even got into real trouble for it.
I also wrote about when I was little, waiting for my father at the end of his workday — dark winter afternoons parked with Mom at the station, and me getting so excited to see the train lights coming in the cold. Sitting in the front seat of the car, the babies bundled into the back, you’d hear the whistle a few seconds before the lights broke through the dark. Then came the train, slow and noisy, as big as a church. You’d watch as all the fathers poured out in their hats and long dark coats, holding briefcases, and you’d worry for a minute, was your dad with them or not? Then there he’d be, walking toward the car, looking tired but happy to see you, ready to plant a scratchy kiss first on Mom’s cheek and then your own.
I started taking pictures too, for that course. Dad let me borrow his Nikon which I still have — he finally gave it to me and got a cheaper camera for himself. I shot a lot of stuff down at Cohasset. I really liked the way the houses along the water looked, first in the winter, like sentries holding their own in the cold, then in the spring, blinds peeled back and windows clear, surrounded by green. …
I liked shooting candids the most, like Cait in the bathroom mirror putting on makeup, her eyes coal-black around the edges, her lips glossy pink, or my little sister Eilie, twelve years old, standing by herself on the sand, looking tight and fierce and shivery, her short hair whipping around her face. One of my favorites was a photo of Liam reading on the back porch at Cohasset — The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, I know it was, though you can’t see the title, you just see him hunched over in shorts and bare feet, looking like he’s deep inside the world of that book. I liked the angle I used on Liam, his face hidden as he bent over those poems.
By the time I got my Army discharge, though, I hardly ever took pictures anymore. The Nikon was in a drawer. I missed it, a little, but I’d lost the urge.
Don't miss this space tomorrow, when we share a second excerpt from The Beauty of Ordinary Things