It’s official — Siah Fried and Georgie Ikuma's uber-controversial book Tales from Swankville has .
Siah Fried and Georgie Ikuma wrote the novel, narrated by the fictional character "Sasha," who spotlights over-the-top parents that occasionally behave badly. The authors say Swankville represents "Any Suburb USA," but those who are critical say it doubles for Pleasanton. Though the book is fiction, those who believe they were mentioned in it say the hurt is very real.
Last week, Patch reporter broke the Swankville , creating a forum for both supporters and those opposed to the book to voice their opinions.
And although this sudden notoriety has been good for book sales, local business owners are feeling some heat.
Among the almost 300 comments on Patch, a few suggested boycotting for carrying the book. Eddie Papa's restaurant also heard heated words about a boycott — retaliation for booking, then canceling, a book signing with both authors.
I spoke with Eddie Papa’s owner Ed Westmoreland about what led him to cancel the Tales from Swankville event, slated for the weekend before Halloween.
“What few in the community don’t understand is that I live across the street from the Fried family and next door to the (family Fried allegedly criticized in the fictional book),” said Westmoreland.
“These people are my neighbors. My children play with their children.”
Originally, Westmoreland had agreed to host the book-signing event with the intention of supporting his neighbor, as he often does for other community members.
But while he was at the restaurant, a customer confronted him, expressing his disapproval over the book signing, which was also supposed to double as Fried's 40th birthday party. The man, according to Westmoreland, said that he would stage a boycott against the restaurant if the event were not called off.
Westmoreland said he wasn’t overly concerned until a few days later, when a family member called him to let him know that parents at a local sports park approached her to voice their intentions of also boycotting the restaurant.
In addition, two weeks prior to the event, Westmoreland had stepped outside of his home and was confronted by a neighbor, who was clearly distressed by the potrayal of his family in the book.
“It was then I realized that this had become more than just a local author launching her new book. It became a political issue, Westmoreland said.
“I’ve always thrown my support behind fundraisers, particularly for the local schools but have stayed neutral on political topics. Because I own a business, I can't take sides or my business will suffer.”
Westmoreland went on to explain that his business is his livelihood, his means of supporting his wife and four children. He said he felt at risk of losing a large portion of his business.
And yet now, Westmoreland is concerned about some people saying they will not visit his restaurant because he opted to cancel the event in attempt to stay neutral.
“I’m Switzerland and not wanting to take sides,” he said.
"It's really unfortunate that this has happened. My intentions were, as they always have been, to support the community. It seems I just can't win."
Judy Wheeler, the owner of Towne Center Books, received similar threats.
“One of my sales people was confronted by a couple who had said they had just come from a meeting with several parents,” Wheeler said.
“They let her know that if we decided to sell the book, they would no longer shop at our store. My sales person let the couple know that we welcomed their business, but if they didn’t like they book, they didn’t have to buy it.”
Generally, Wheeler has seen a large outpouring of support from the community renouncing talk of a boycott and assuring her they would continue to shop at her store. She has sold all the copies of Tales from Swankville originally stocked, and has a lengthy waiting list. The store is working on re-stocking and will likely have new copies next week.
Defending her choice to sell controversial books is not new to Wheeler. During political elections, shoppers will occasionally confront her about books that don't support their political preferences.
“We (stock) what people want,” said Wheeler.
“It doesn’t mean that we support, endorse, or agree with the content of the book. We are in the business of selling books. We don’t take sides.”
While many online commenters questioned the integrity of a book that they believe outright attacks specific, identifiable parents in Pleasanton, others spoke out against the threats to the local businesses. Some said they didn't like that the conflict has grown beyond the author and her neighbors, essentially taking two businesses hostage.
When I asked Westmoreland what he thought of the threats of boycott to Towne Center Books, he responded with support.
“Telling Judy that her business is being boycotted because she chooses to sell a book is akin to telling me that you’ll boycott my business because I sell cotton candy and you don’t like it,” said Westmoreland.
“Her business is books. My business is food. We sell what people want."
Only time will tell if either business will see real fallout from the recent controversy.
The consensus from both owners is that they believe the community recognizes the years of service and commitment they have given to the town of Pleasanton. They say they are confident that customers will see beyond the book and continue to support their businesses and neutral stance.