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The life and times of Harry McCreedy
By Gregory J. Hand
A tyrannical boss and dysfunctional coworkers. A mother institutionalized for the better part of a dozen years. A dead father whose family is openly hostile to you and your sick mother. A girlfriend almost twice your age, whose mental problems rival your mother's, and whose own mother looks to you to keep her daughter well. And you, twenty-two and fresh out of college, have a savior complex and are out to try and help everyone. That is, everyone but yourself. Welcome to the world of Harry McCreedy.
Harry McCreedy, by James Jeffrey Paul, tells the tale of this young man during the period of 1999-2000 and the struggles that he faces during this short period culminating in his death; which, incidentally, is revealed to the reader on page one of the book. Harry however, trying to be the optimist, believes he can solve the many disparate problems that life has dealt him, and is very committed toward that end. He certainly has his hand full.
Harry's primary concern at work involves leading his fellow employees on a revolt against their horrific boss Sally Mayhew. It begins after he starts working at Port Arthur Shoes, when Sally confides in him that she is up for promotion next fall. In order for her to get the promotion she needs Harry, who is doing a remarkable job, to not perform so well in the future lest he show her as incompetent for not coming up with exciting and innovative ideas herself. Progress can be made, she assures him, but not too much, in order for her to blame her underlings for being so ineffectual as to prevent her from improving the store beyond those few, meager steps. This of course would not include Harry, whom she sees getting promoted into her position once she is out of the store and at the executive level, at which point everyone but Harry would be fired.
Sally's idea disturbs Harry, who, despite the quirkiness of his coworkers, generally likes them and wants no harm to come of them. Confused and unsure of himself, as is his nature, he is prodded into action by his girlfriend Sandra Trefontana's mother Evelyn, who strongly encourages him to have everyone work together to document Sally's abuses to submit en masse to the company President at review time. By dangling her respect for him, which he so desperately covets like the respect of so many others, Evelyn is quickly able to convince Harry to carry out the plan.
The store has problems other than Sally as its leader. Despite the main showroom seeming, "almost as large as an indoor stadium," it only seems to have, including Harry, seven employees, three of which are the store manager and two assistants, Harry and Bernice. Sally spends most of her time shut up in her office, and throughout the story the main place of congregation is the break room, where the employees seem to spend most of their time. It seems implausible that any work at all could ever get done in such a store.
The work environment at Port Arthur is also a case study in the theory of learned helplessness, defined as, "an apathetic attitude stemming from the conviction that one's actions do not have the power to affect one's situation." Sally is vicious and verbally abusive, almost unbelievably so, but the employees just sit and repeatedly take it. One would think that someone on the staff of the Port Arthur Shoe Company would have quit, complained about her behavior, or better yet, sued her and Port Arthur for abuse, harassment and mental anguish. It is, after all, Washington D.C., a town full of lawyers and victims' rights advocates. The employees at Port Arthur are not apathetic; they are masochists.
The irony is not lost that Harry, who always fears Sally's manipulations, can be just as manipulative; although Harry is quick to assign his motives to his own altruism in helping those around him. In fact, the two are more alike than either would readily admit. Both come from wealthy families, and despite Sally's poor oppressed black woman' routine, which she falls back on repeatedly, she actually comes from the wealthier of the two families. Both are only working there to get real world' experience before moving onto better employment with their respective families. Perhaps most significantly it is both of them who two-face each other in a battle for control. However, it is Sally who has the upper hand in their struggle, as she is able to manipulate and play Harry for a fool at every turn.
While working at Port Arthur, Harry is also building a relationship with Sandra Trefontana, a thirty-nine year old executive secretary with the Department of Justice, who he met at a Barnes and Noble bookstore. Very much alike in their general timidity toward life, the two bond instantly. Their infatuation is so immediate that it leads to the couple's first sexual encounter towards the end of their first meeting.
Their relationship quickly develops into something more serious. They are very good for each other, although completely co-dependent, as they are able to support each other in their times of weakness. Harry, unsure of his plan at work, always has Sandra to help support his efforts to rid Port Arthur of Sally. In turn it is Harry's love for Sandra that helps her to remain emotionally healthy.
Also involved in his and Sandra's lives are their respective parents, Elizabeth and Evelyn. As you may recall, Elizabeth suffers from mental instability. Sandra, having also suffered from depression and having had two mental breakdowns of her very own, becomes very close to Harry's mother. Eventually Harry and Sandra are able to rescue Elizabeth from her hospital, and she comes to live with the two of them, where Sandra becomes very much like the daughter Elizabeth never had. Harry, in turn, becomes very close to Evelyn, as the two are mutually concerned about Sandra's mental health and her ability to remain strong.
There is also the matter of Harry's extended family that are, just like Evelyn Trefontana, people that Harry desperately wants to impress. Born of a rich, Boston family, he found himself practically disowned when his father died and his "bohemian" mother, to whom the family never warmed, had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. He found his life passing from abusive relative to abusive relative until he was able to get out of college and out into the world. He was tossed between relatives "because no one could tolerate him," although some were apparently nicer than others. For example, his grandfather treated him, "in a distant and stern manner," while his Aunt Susan, "would scream insults at him and pummel him with her fists." Aunt Susan sounds like a candidate for manager of the Port Arthur Shoe Company.
The family is very strange beyond its habit of abusing children. That there was some dislike for Harry's mother is to be expected. Not everyone in a family gets along, and certainly someone from a completely different upbringing could unwittingly irritate or bother someone from a dissimilar past. However, Harry's family possesses an almost collective mentality, where the family' speaks with one voice, and has only one train of thought. Everyone hates Elizabeth. Everyone dislikes and abuses Harry. There are no dissenters in the group toward Elizabeth and Harry, just varying degrees of hate and disdain, respectively.
Harry's father, "the shining star of his generation of the family," met, fell in love with, and married Elizabeth, and they produced Harry. Although Harry was the progeny of a shining family star, because of the disdain for Elizabeth, they did not care for Harry either. To dislike the wife is one thing. To be cruel and abusive toward the child, especially the only child of "the shining star" is something completely different. That he was the "weak-willed" child of a bohemian mother, or that he suffered from an "overall weakness of character" that had "resulted from his mother's defective genes" did not justify the seemingly incomprehensible mental and physical abuse that Harry suffered for eight years of his life.
Given the McCreedys penchant for, in some cases, criminal child abuse and neglect over an obsession with seeing themselves as, "fierce warriors in an endless struggle for their Faith and their family honor, against the world" makes them, for all their self absorbed greatness, the family from Hell. That a very insecure Harry would continue, even as an adult, to go back for more is inexplicable unless he is as mentally unstable as his mother.
What is most disappointing about Harry is that he is never able, even with the love and support of his mother and new family in Sandra and Evelyn, to overcome the need to be wanted by the sleazy McCreedy clan. After the years of abuse and neglect, the family only decides to embrace him after he is successful in his career and about to be married. At a pre-wedding party that his relatives threw for him, he was just amazed that, "his family treated him not just with civility, but with affection, as if he had never been an outcast. Even Aunt Susan, his most vicious tormentor, treated him like a star in the family firmament." That the woman had not been hauled away to jail for child abuse is just dumbfounding. Her about-face treatment of Harry shows how perverted the McCreedys really are.
When his cousin Frank offers him a high paying job at the same party, Harry seriously considers it. Being the lackey that he is, Harry is thrilled at the idea of being back in the McCreedy fold. Sadly, he never once thinks to give them their comeuppance by finally rejecting them and their communal stupidity.
It would seem to be the singular goal of Harry's life to please others, especially the McCreedys, at the expense of his own happiness. He quits his dream of teaching history to go into the business world to please his abusive relatives. Evelyn Trefontana disapproves of him dating her daughter, as Sandra is 39 and Harry is 22, so in order to gain her approval by showing her that he is a man, he takes her suggestion that he scheme against Sally. When Harry's grandfather comes to stop by the store to visit Harry at work, after he sees the picture of Harry's beloved mother, whom Harry supposedly loves more than any other save Sandra, Harry, "as fast as a lizard sticks out his tongue," turns the picture face down on the desk to garner the approval of the old man. His mother's health was in dire straights by virtue of the fact that the family' would not lift a finger to help in her treatment, thereby forcing her "to depend on the inferior care of a charity hospital," yet he jumped through hoops to get their approval.
Harry also suffers from a serious rescuing complex. He never gave up on his coworkers through his plan to get Sally fired, even though he could have quit (they all could have) and gone to work somewhere else. Sandra was another version of his mother, and both women had to be constantly looked after and nurtured. In the end it was his need to please others, his need to rescue others, and his inability to get beyond his own self-imposed limitations that were his downfall.
The few strengths of Harry McCreedy are Paul's ability to create lively, unique characters, each with their own quirks and many of whom are haunted by their own demons, and in fashioning a compelling story line to carry them through to the bitter end. Despite the fictional nature of the story, it would work better for the reader if it were perhaps more believable. Paul's writing style has moments of brilliance, but overall is somewhat cumbersome. The complexity of the various relationships in Harry's life, along with the myriad of disorders being suffered by nearly everyone around him, weighs down the entire story and results in the reader struggling through certain portions of the book. Despite Paul's characterization of Harry as needing to compulsively rescue others, I couldn't help but wonder why Harry just didn't buy a one-way ticket to Rio by page 23.
Gregory J. Hand is a political and social commentator whose weekly columns disclose his personal passion for conservative issues. His columns appear regularly at NewsCorridor, OpinioNet, and Ether Zone, and he is also a contributing writer with Enter Stage Right. He has a B.A. in Economics from Wofford College. You can view the complete catalog of all of his works on GregoryHand.com, and can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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