The Asthmatic Kid and other stories by Mark Tulin is, in fact, a skillfully assembled collection of coming-of-age stories for adult readers set in the 1950s, 60s, and beyond primarily in Pennsylvania.
In the novella, The Asthmatic Kid, protagonist Harry Tobin, a small-statured, asthmatic child, suffers every possible obstacle to growing into a decent, happy adult. Each chapter is a stand-alone short story of an episode in Harry’s dysfunctional life stitched seamlessly together to tell an unforgettable tale of a remarkable uphill climb to the edge of young adulthood.
Mr. Tulin’s characters, absentee father Max, mentally ill mother Lil, drunken Uncle Leo, patient Aunt Mary, semi well-adjusted Grandma, and others are drawn as complex people with, perhaps, more flaws than virtues. Seen through Harry’s eyes, how could they be otherwise? But even this extended family of misfits are held together by bonds of love, no matter how badly expressed.
Despite the pathos, humor creeps into the narrative in unexpected places. When Harry meets to fight a much bigger boy, we learn that it is tiny Harry who has been bullying the others for his lunch money. As a teenager, he and his friends belong to a high school “fraternity” named Zeta Rho (Zero). This reader found the author’s subtle humor very satisfying.
Mark Tulin shows his canniness as a writer by not tying this story up in a neat bow. Instead, he leaves the reader with a sense that Harry has developed an attitude and values that will see him through life’s storms and on a course to a bright future.
N.K. Wagner, poet and editor of Page & Spine
The Asthmatic Kid and Other Stories, by Mark Tulin at Amazon.