A friend and colleague, who worked on the film Michael Collins, told me that the studio’s market strategy team pressured the director to “make it a happy ending.” It would be better for sales, they argued, which is an acceptable thing for them to say, because their job is to sell the movie. The director resisted – that was his job – because there was no happy ending. Michael Collins was assassinated, he was dead, there would and could be no Michael Collins 2.
Ed Boland strikes me as a writer who stood up to the marketing people. Boland was educated in the Catholic parochial school system in Rochester, New York, where life was brutal, but you earned a decent diploma to match your physical and emotional scars. After twenty years of working in the education sector in various roles, he decided to teach in the New York public school system. We are trained by Hollywood to expect a tale of sweat, blood, tears, pathos, a breakthrough and then victory. However, there are almost no happy endings in his stories, just unlucky kids and helpless parents in an educational system for the damned.
The book is really well-written, beautifully structured, moving forwards and backwards through Boland’s life, while remaining rooted in the classroom.
One of the most unsettling but compelling aspects of the book is that it brings me straight back to my days in a Catholic boys school. It’s the mixture of horror and exhilaration that you got watching a plucky, principled yet completely over-matched kid get hammered in a schoolyard fight. Every time he picked himself up from the ground, part of you says “good for you, well done!” The rest of you tries to catch his eye, to say “Stay down Ed, stay down and it will all be over sooner.”