Succumbing to the military as they pack your belongings and store them during a deployment is, to say the least, a very nerve-racking experience. It is the ultimate release of control. Last week the USMC delivered my stuff back to our home in North Carolina. As my husband and I broke into every box, my eyes carefully examined all our collectibles. I scanned each item for cracks, scratches and any sort of damage. Eric mimicked George Carlin in an attempt to ease my upset when, upon opening a box, I discovered nearly every one of our glasses were shattered.
“Ever notice how our shit is stuff and everyone else’s stuff is shit?” he joked. At that point, I threw up my hands, shouted an expletive and walked away. As I often do, I logged on to the Internet for a distraction. Within my e-mail inbox, I found a glowing recommendation for a novel titled, “The Collectibles.” While I didn’t realize it then, I certainly do now: This e-mail was a gift.
“The Collectibles,” authored by Wilmington’s own James Kaufman, centers around Joe Hart, an orphan from the unspoiled Adirondack mountains. Eventually, Hart leaves his humble beginnings and goes on to distinguish himself, first as a Navy submarine commander, then as an unmatched successful attorney. Then we meet Preston Wilson, a child of wealth and privilege from New York’s Upper East Side. Preston harbors tremendous fears of financial failure for his real estate-automotive empire, and when that fear becomes a reality, he tracks down the one attorney who can save him: Joe Hart. Reluctantly, Hart decides to help—but only after extracting a promise that Preston will fulfill an unspecified condition when called upon.
Soon, Joe calls to collect on his unconventional IOU. The task: Preston must meet, earn the trust of and care for six of Hart’s friends, also known as “The Collectibles.” None of whom Preston would ever get to know on his own. It’s more than a personal challenge. Preston must find integrity within himself, love in his self-absorbed heart and realize the best return for one’s self is the ability to give a gift to the giver.
“The idea for the novel came from the fact that we all collect things,” Kaufman explained last week. “We have this notion that it’s fun to collect and that the collections increase in value over time. Many collect cars, dolls or clocks, and they treasure these collections. But, if you look at their relationships, there’s isn’t the same degree of intensity. As a collector of Civil War bullet molds, the thought occurred to me: Why can’t we view our relationships similarly? They too will increase in value over time if we collect, nourish and take care of them. My concept was to look at people with the same endearment we pay to objects.”
“The Collectibles” is a tale about relationships, friendship and the power of redemption. Without giving too much away, readers will discover “The Collectibles” are not objects—rather, they are men and women who have intrinsic worth, but are challenged with problems and whom need help. To name a few, there’s a mentally challenged dishwasher, a women who dreams of being a show girl, but is a battered wife who doesn’t deserve to be abused, a photographer who suffers from being bi-polar and then there’s Corey, a proud and dignified African American ship builder who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
“I want readers to feel better about what can be done in society,” he said. “It’s a story of hope in a time of Sinicism. I want to invite readers to e-mail me. I want to know who your collectibles are. Hearing from my readers is part of reaching out. Life is not about control, money or achievement. It’s about our connections to those around us.“
As an attorney, businessman and former judge, Kaufman has represented a slew of different clients, ranging from millionaires to those who don’t have a dime. It’s this experience within the business world and his interactions with people from a wide variety of different backgrounds that directly reveals “The Collectibles” as a window into Kaufman’s world, including his childhood in upstate New York.
“My father was an old-fashioned, family village doctor, and my mother was his nurse,” he says,” and in a time long before Medicaid and Medicare, patients didn’t have money to pay for care. So, compensation was in the form of potatoes, corn and chickens. I definitely drew upon this act of selflessness to bring morality and soul within my novel.”
A tale not about control or money, but about the benefit from the extensions of the heart, Kaufman didn’t set out to preach about how one should or should not conduct themselves. Instead, he entwines vivid characters and a picture of what society could be if the idea of “number one” dissolves. More than anything, his book is a reminder to shift the focus on that which cannot be replaced within our lives—people.
For more about “The Collectibles” and where Kaufman will be reading, visit www.thecollectiblesnovel.com. Copies are available at Two Sisters Bookery and Barnes and Noble in Mayfaire.