Gary M. Almeter grew up on a small dairy farm in Western New York, about 300 child-sized steps from his Grandpa’s house, where ice cream - usually Maple Walnut or Butter Pecan - was always available. He is now an attorney whose short stories, essays and humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, 1966, Splitsider, Verdad, and Writer’s Bone. In addition to winning his 8th grade spelling bee, he has been awarded numerous awards for his non-fiction, including the Maryland Writers Association’s Best Essay award in 2015. Gary has a B.A. in English from Le Moyne College; an M.Ed. in Secondary Education from Boston College; and a J.D. from the University of Maryland. He currently lives in Baltimore, MD, about 300 adult-sized steps from the best ice cream shop in Baltimore, with his wife, three children, beagle and numerous deferred domestic projects.
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Growing up on a small dairy farm in upstate New York, Gary lived a few hundred steps from his paternal grandparents. His grandfather (hereafter “Grandpa”) was a perpetually happy man and Gary wondered, in light of the nature of farm work, in light of some of the hardships Grandpa endured, in light of the pace of the town, in light of the way he was chronically frugal, how this could be so. After college, Gary moved to the city and reveled in the cadence and sophistication of the city. And began to see how places came to shape the people who lived in those places. How the way we defy and indulge in a place; how the way we yearn for the notion of somewhere else; how the cadence and influence of a place affects a person.
In The Emperor of Ice-Cream, Gary recounts all the little moments - moments he never thought could or would be important - he had with Grandpa to try to understand who Grandpa was. He - with an astonishing blend of his signature humor and a reverence that only comes from a boy who loves his grandfather - then examines how his understanding of those moments has evolved after moving to the big cities for which he had always yearned. Does changing from denim overalls to a Brooks Brothers suit change a person? Should it? Is cow piss really that different from the piss with which the sidewalks of New York City are often soaked?
Not surprisingly, Gary discovers that where we are and where we are from has a big effect on who we are. But often not for the reasons we expect. The Emperor of Ice-Cream is an incredible and artfully told story of what we do to find happiness, what memorial means, what it means to be family, and what we do to be authentic in places where authenticity can be a challenge. It’s about the complexities of triumphantly leaving home and then spending decades befuddled by a perpetual and indomitable force luring you back.
There is a sad irony about grandparents. When you get to be at the age you want to know about the real people they were, you’re also likely near the age when your grandparents are no longer there. And you are also at the age when you are wondering who you are too. It takes a while – a couple decades really - to realize that your grandparents are people too. When you take your thumbnail, and scratch a little beneath the surface – beneath the myth that surrounds a child’s understanding of his or her grandparents and takes hold of a family – you see that grandparents are people: complex, mercurial, whimsical, authentic people. And that you likely have some of that whimsy and complexity in you.
In this moving, sophisticated, and often humorous novel, Gary M. Almeter artfully crafts a group portrait of several families using the finest of details in seemingly mundane encounters and everyday events.
It’s 1982 and Gloria Winegar, a Brown University librarian, discovers that there aren’t many drawbacks to having an affair with JFK, Jr., a Brown senior. When she learns she’s pregnant with his baby, she tells no one but her best friend who shepherds through childbirth. They leave the baby, a son, on the steps of a convent. The novel chronicles the next few decades of both Gloria and her son, who gets adopted by the most normal family in Massachusetts. How he learns who he is; how he discovers his mother; and what they each should or must do with their new knowledge is masterfully and beautifully written in a story that is a little bit espionage novel; a little bit bildungsroman; and a little bit historical fiction; all culminating in a beautiful literary sketch of a family. The book imagines the pre-public life of JFK Jr. and examines how much we know about him, and people in general, is illusory.
It is the story of identity, pedigree, blue collar versus Ivy League sensibilities, celebrity, authenticity, family, and self-care. It’s about how small things evolve into big things. It is a novel about nature versus nurture. It is a modern telling story of Arthurian legend and the mythic doomed (and triumphant) heroes who populate our world.