Monday, August 20, 2012

Big Ray

Big Ray by Michael Kimball (2012)

Ray's defining characteristics were his size and his temper. When his son Daniel first learns of his father's death, he is relieved. But clearly Daniel has a lot of unresolved and conflicting feelings, as revealed in the many brief passages that make up this slim volume.

His father's death permeates everything, and is worthy of mention regardless of what the narrator is doing or thinking about. The writing style is simple and straightforward, in brief sentences that pack emotional punches one after the other.

Daniel has a few good memories of his father, but most of them are bad, many of the worst held back until late in the book. But they inform his behavior towards his father, who he ignores in the last months before his death. Big Ray would call Daniel's house and leave messages every day, some more coherent than others, until Daniel and his wife considered changing their phone number to avoid him. I don't think Daniel feels very guilty about this, nor do I think he should.

Not that he didn't feel sympathy for his father. Indeed, Daniel considered how his father must have been influenced by his own childhood. It also occurred to him how much his father must have hated being reminded of how fat he was every time someone called him Big Ray. He certainly must feel pity when he says "I don't know if my father ever realized he was having an unhappy life."

Though fewer than 200 pages, a lifetime is summarized and conveyed in prose which, though not emotional itself, certainly evokes emotion. I highlighted many passages in my ebook copy, and went back and reread many pages. This isn't a plot-driven novel destined for popularity, but rather a quiet narrative that will stick in its (probably few) readers' minds long after they've finished.

I keep thinking of Daniel's description of the stench of death that permeated his father's apartment: "It was difficult to get away from my father whether he was alive or dead." It's quite apparent that thoughts of his father continue to follow Daniel, just as this book will continue to haunt you after you've read it.

My review copy is courtesy of NetGalley. Big Ray will be published in September.

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