Repairable Men starts out simply enough, a terse story of brotherly conflict and maturity and domestic discord and the things men inherit from their fRepairable Men starts out simply enough, a terse story of brotherly conflict and maturity and domestic discord and the things men inherit from their fathers. But in the last paragraph the whole world shifts, signaling what the book truly is: a resonant mythology of masculinity.
You wouldn't think we needed more stories like this. Surely we have had plenty of men telling stories about men -- about our efforts at heroism and our pathetic defeats, about how hard men have it even though we live in a world of men.
But, it turns out, we do need John Carr Walker's stories. Because as hard and sometimes violent as these stories can be, Walker treats the characters with a gentle sympathy and humanity. The book has its share of abusive fathers and bumbling fuck-ups, but it also has fathers who are simultaneously sad in their clinging to old dreams but beautiful and heroic in their love for their sons. It has lost brothers returning to themselves and bringing order to the world. It has tenderness and confusion, and when it reveals that there aren't any answers in the world -- in spite of the title, very few of these characters are repairable -- it offers you the comfort of knowing that you aren't alone in that revelation.
My favorite stories in this book are the ones about fathers and sons. Some of them, like "The Atlas Show" or "Candelario" or "The Rules," are overt, the father-son relationship central to the story. Others, like "Ain't It Pretty" or "Brother Rhino," are more oblique, glancing at the father or the son from the edges of some other story, but that relationship still defines -- almost always in negative space -- the world the characters inhabit. There's something about the way Walker writes these stories that speaks to me, as though the author and I share some secret.
In the same way that nostalgia is both sickening and addictive, or that bittersweet combines opposites, Walker creates a terrific combination of unease and comfort in these stories, the two emotions always slipping past each other like two magnets of the same polarity, but doing so with that same invisible pressure. I always like to hold two opposing magnets together, to feel them push against each other with a force I can feel but can't see or fully understand -- and I like to press them together as hard as I can until they meet. That's the sort of thing Walker accomplishes in all these stories but especially in the father-son stories: that invisible pressure, and the weird delight in pushing past the pressure.
Repairable Men is a powerful little book, and I eagerly await John Carr Walker's next book....more
This is a taut, hard book. Slim as it is, it took me quite a while to finish it because I kept making the mistake of reading it at bedtime and could oThis is a taut, hard book. Slim as it is, it took me quite a while to finish it because I kept making the mistake of reading it at bedtime and could only manage a chapter a night. It weighs on the soul. It sits in your stomach. These are compliments, because what Towell is dealing with in this book -- the trauma of past child molestation and the fear of it happening again -- is gut-churning stuff and it should keep you up at night, and she handles it with such glaring honesty and realism that you find yourself almost too involved with the characters, their trauma. Towell makes you feel this book.
Despite all that, I do wish it were a bit more book here -- the characters are so compelling that I wasn't quite done with them when I'd finished the book. Which is good news, really, because this novella is actually intended as a prequel -- a preview, really, a trailer in the form of prose -- for her forthcoming series, Scars. To be honest, I'm not sure I have it in me to crawl back into the queasy horror of this world for a whole novel, let alone a series, but I also don't know if I can honestly avoid it. Her story is that compelling, and certainly that important....more
This is an excellent collection of poetry -- cleverly conceived and cunningly executed -- and it's become one of my favorite books of this year. Not jThis is an excellent collection of poetry -- cleverly conceived and cunningly executed -- and it's become one of my favorite books of this year. Not just favorite books of poetry -- one of my favorite books, PERIOD.
Not every poem is perfect, and there were a few in which the craft behind the poem seemed the more important concern. There is the occasional too-cute allusion, as to Ezra Pound or William Carlos Williams ("This is just to say" indeed). But then the whole book is an allusion, mostly to the titular characters (the libertine John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, and Stella from Philip Sidney's sonnet cycle "Astrophil and Stella") but also to Whitman and Spenser and Snyder and a whole range of other poets, in a variety of styles and eras.
There are other comparisons I would make. Narratively, there are moments when Gerard reminds me of Beth Ann Fennelly, her sexuality and her brassy wit, and others that remind me of Mark Doty's wistful reflection. Structurally and thematically, there times I think of James Galvin. I doubt these are accidents. Reading Gerard's collection is in some ways like a master class in poetry, a history in miniature, and would make for fascinating study in a classroom.
And yet the whole book, as a book, is distinctively Gerard's, the voice his own, and he is a master in his own right. Gerard is terrific with images and ideas: "It's a fucking cliché she came like a hurricane she was / what you hated in your father what he couldn't resist / The storm drinking your mother to death," or "The syntax of expectation's heavy. / I am a rusty nail, a pry bar, a barn splitting at / the seams with wet hay," or "every Sunday I stood between my parents. / I loved the hymns. Daddy and I tried / to harmonize. The choir like rain / reviving a moss garden."
I keep wanting to quote lines from the book to show you what I mean, but the lines in isolation don't show you the full impact of Gerard's work. The real breathlessness of them comes from their cumulative impact, the way the lines and the images and the emotions build on each other. Each line by itself is a weight on a bar, and when you look at one it seems light and easy but little by little they press on you, so the final weight of the poem is often immense.
The collection as a whole works in much the same way -- the very first poem, took my knees from me, and from there it's just punch after punch -- though he is careful to inject a few moments of levity to make the reading more an exercise than an assault. And the structure of the collection is narrative, an actual life shared between these two imagined figures, Wimot and Stella, borrowed from poetry and history but fictionalized and made to stand in for other figures, so you read on eagerly to discover what turn will come next in this odd, beautiful, contentious relationship. By the end of it, you feel you've lived alongside these people.
It's as pleasant a read as I've had all year, and I highly recommend it....more