Mr. Hatch was one of those books I bought in the earlymid 90s or so when I had first moved to this house, had gained 40 or 50 lbs., had Issues with my job, had accepted that my romantic history was pretty much Over and Ded in the dustbin, had no friends other than fiance-speese-whatever the hell he was that year, and had suddenly developed a back that went out Often and Severely. I didn't go to shows (please. I didn't even listen to records then, OK). I didn't go walking or hiking (back and leg were too bad). I didn't go shopping (nothing fit and all the styles in the 90s were ugly and I still think that). I did watch Turner Classic Movies obsessively, and I did read books. One of the book catalogs I read religiously was the Chinaberry kids' catalog. In those days it was sort of a homegrown enterprise run by a couple of yuppie mamas who always had an essay inside the front about some Life Lesson their kids had learned, or were teaching them, and I would read these essays with a sort of fascination and ickified awe that one feels while watching an orangutan at the zoo chew a banana 132 times and then spit all the mush out down his front. Ooo wow I am somehow species-wise related to this creature and I guess if I were a member of its Tribe I might even grok it but...ugh! (I have the same reaction reading HellJaes of people who do things like post 3712 times about how lonely and bored they are when their SO goes down to the convenience store for a pack of beef jerky, or freak out in spazzy abandon because they obtained a WII.)
In those days, Chinaberry was into selling Quality kidz books with a Message, um okay fine I certainly did not need more "socially responsible" yuppie-parenting crapola in my life, but the books sold also tended to be the Nicer and more expensive books with cool illustrations. So, not having storybookland to look at in those days, nor the I-net for that matter, I purchased a good many of the books just to see what was in them, based on the blurble in the catalog and if I liked the cover picture. I'd order four or five at a time. Mr. Hatch was one of the books I bought on a whim.
It turned out to be the story of one Mr. Hatch, a guy who keeps to himself and has no family or friends and a dull gray civil servicey job (I could relate to all this at the time) until one day he gets this gigantic unsigned Valentine, a huge heart-shaped box of candy roughly the size of the 3-foot ones that used to be in Malleys' window in February. It has a note in it that says, "Somebody loves you." Mr. Hatch is so struck by the fact that Somebody loves him, although he doesn't have a clue who it is and wonders a bit, that it changes his whole personality. He becomes all friendly and happy and outgoing and says "Good morning" to people and helps them out. When a little girl named, I think, Tina goes missing, Mr. Hatch goes to the playground and finds Tina and takes her home.
This goes on for a while until one day the postman comes and sadly informs Mr. Hatch that the big heart-shaped box was actually for someone else and had been delivered to the wrong house. The postman takes away the big heart-shaped box, and Mr. Hatch goes back into his funk, because "Somebody" didn't love Him after all. But the townspeople notice that he's not around and they miss him, and there's this big It's-a-Wonderful-Life sort of ending where they all go to his house with Valentines or something (I forget) and say, "Everybody loves you, Mr. Hatch." And Mr. Hatch lives happily ever after.
My first reaction upon reading this book was to bawl. (I am in fact seriously stifling tears as I write this.) Poor old Mr. Hatch, the dull gray bureaucrat with No Friends, turns out to be capable of loving and being loved after all. Bawl-worthy indeed. But another part of me was bawling because it seemed like such an unrealistic premise. People are self-centered. They don't even live in the same town long enough to make friends with you half the time. Reaching out to people doesn't necessarily mean they will become your friends, half the time they just take you for what they can get and say Bye, leaving you more disappointed and bitter than before. (Yes, I am speaking partly from poissonal experience, though not entirely as I've seen enuf other people have Issues with this same type of thing to know it's fairly universal.)
The more I thought about the Mr. Hatch book, the more I became seized with weird forebodings about the whole concept. What if nobody noticed when Mr. Hatch went back into his hole, and he spent the rest of his life ignored and alone despite all the nice things he'd done when he was "on"? What if something even worse happened, for example, if Mr. Hatch went to find little Tina at the playground and found her all right but she was dead in a ditch and he, being this Isolated nondescript old guy who nobody knew very well, became the Prime Suspect in her murder? What if the big candy Valentine actually had poisoned chocolates in it, sent as a practical joke on Mr. Hatch or a mob hit on the proper recipient of the package? The more I thought about it, the more I thought Mr. Hatch was taking a hella big chance breaking out of his shell.
In the end, the book disturbed me so much that before I went away to law school, instead of putting it with most of my other nice children's books in the upstairs bookshelves, I took it down to the basement and put it in the corner shelves with all the other moldering books I don't read very much or don't want upstairs. I just didn't want that book around me. It kept making me cry and worry and think of all sorts of horrible fates for poor ol' Mr. Hatch, all at the same time. I was bugged at myself for having such an emo reaction to a dumb kiddie book full of el fako Smurfy have-a-friend/be-a-friend lessons, but I was going through a long period of not being exactly Together, emotionally speaking, and it didn't really start to improve until years later when I was getting out of school and starting to meet Actual Friends who helped me learn to get along with people on a social basis again, and help keep me sane and for the most part listen to me and put up with me even when I'm having a Beaker moment. The book is still in the basement, as far as I know. I wondered whether I should go get it out; it's a first edition, a nice book with interesting pictures. But unfortunately, thinking about it still makes me shudder.
Watch your step, Mr. Hatch. And make sure to look behind you. It's a crazy world.