Topical Guide 27
Friends, Real; Friends, Imaginary; Friendship; Reality, Real and Fictional
. . . there was a rapid pounding of feet up the stairs, and for a moment I thought my father was coming to tell me that my dawdling was delaying Grandfather, to tell me to get a move on, to pull me by the shirtsleeve if I hesitated. But it wasn’t my father who burst through the door without knocking—it was a boy about my size but a little older.
Little Follies, “Do Clams Bite?”
This is the first appearance of Rodney (“Raskolnikov” or “Raskol”) Lodkochnikov. He and Peter become lifelong friends.
However, allow me to hustle you forward to What a Piece of Work I Am and show you a bit of Peter’s preface to that book, lightly edited by me:
MY BEST FRIEND was my imaginary friend, a boy named Rod, short for Rodney, friend of my own invention. . . . One day when Great-grandmother and I were trading secrets, I confessed to her that I considered him my best friend. . . .
Often, when I described the imaginary adventures we had, the games we played, and so on, she always seemed relieved, as if she feared that he would be an unsuitable companion for me. She never got his name quite right. She was convinced that he was called Raskolnikov, and that’s the name that stuck as a nickname, Raskol for short. When I was little, I thought of this Raskol as a wanderer, sent by luck or fate to be my friend, but as I aged, or, possibly, as I matured, I came to see that he hadn’t come from anywhere; he had been with me all the time. Although I had made the shell of this friend from bits and pieces of other people—scraps, used parts that I’d picked up here and there from the junkyard of my memory and imagination—his head and his heart were mine from the start, and that’s why we got along so well.
Most children give their imaginary friends up after a while, ignore them, send them away, or let them go, but I kept mine, and along with him I kept his entire family: his enormous half-witted brothers, his sturdy and long-suffering mother, his violent father—a battered, belabored, and disappointed man—and his sultry sister, Ariane. When I was a boy, I was in love with Ariane. She was fascinating, dark and shapely, luscious as a ripe plum, and if she were here now, looking over my shoulder as I write these words, she’d be likely to say, “Take it easy, there, boy. Don’t spread it on quite so thick. Control yourself.”
What a Piece of Work I Am
Even an imaginary friendship requires maintenance:
It is the fate of most men who mingle with the world, and attain even the prime of life, to make many real friends, and lose them in the course of nature. It is the fate of all authors or chroniclers to create imaginary friends, and lose them in the course of art. Nor is this the full extent of their misfortunes; for they are required to furnish an account of them besides.
Charles Dickens, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Chapter 57, In which the Pickwick Club Is Finally Dissolved, and Everything Concluded to the Satisfaction of Everybody
Unlike many a “real friend,” an imaginary friend will always “be there for you,” waiting at home, eager for your return, if you can perform the alchemical magic that transforms real reality into fictional reality:
From the ruins and the dissolution of real reality something very different will emerge, not a copy but an answer: fictional reality.
Mario Vargas Llosa, The Perpetual Orgy: Flaubert and Madame Bovary
“It wouldn’t be make-believe if you’d believe in me.”
“It’s Only a Paper Moon,” lyrics by Yip Harburg and Billy Rose
[more to come on Friday, June 18, 2021]
Have you missed an episode or two or several? You can catch up by visiting the archive, or you can download a free ePub of the annotated version of “My Mother Takes a Tumble,” the first novella in Little Follies, including the full text and all of my annotations.