4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Either I am getting better and better at knowing what I like, or everyone is writing really amazing books lately. (or I am getting softer and easier to please as I age, but we won't go there!)
Empty the Sun was a book I stumbled across accidently, and it looked interesting so I reached out to Tyson Cornell of Rarebirdlit.com for a review copy. No, I am not ashamed to put myself out there like that. Yes, he was an absolute peach to agree to ship it out. So Tyson, I'm blowin' a little kiss your way as my way of saying thanks!
Joseph Mattson does an outstanding job of infusing reality with an alter-reality, creating a protagonist like none that I have read before. A guitar fiend with a penchant for whiskey and a strong dislike for God - our main man finds himself backed between a rock and a hard place time and time again.
Playing gigs with a guy known as Sweet Julio gets him in a heap of trouble when some not-so-straight cops chuck him in the back of a K-9 van to question him in the presence of a caged and agitated German Shepard. Unable to give the cops the information they want, they feed his left index finger - the most important finger, the fret finger - to the dog and throw him out onto the street.
In shock and bleeding heavily, traveling down the center lane of the highway, he is rescued by Hal and Little Pam, and the threesome become fast friends.
6 nights ago, he dreams of God. God tells him the world will end in 6 days. God tells him he might as well end it now.
Upon waking, he goes to see Hal to discuss the dream, and finds his friend dead. Rather than call for help, he wraps Hal up in a blanket, tosses him in the trunk of his car, and heads out of Los Angeles on a mission. A mission that involves drugs, drinking, elephant seals, knuckle bones, music, a blind Blues guitarist, and a long lost love who lies dying, and God.
Once I started reading this novel, it was easy to see why it has garnered such great reviews.
Joseph deals with things like addiction, religion, and love in very real terms. He impregnates his characters with these failings, allowing them to wallow in their inadequacies. Heck, they even see themselves as failures, as lost souls, hopeless and unfixable.
Hal, who we come to know through a series of memories (or flashbacks), punished himself his entire life for a mistake he made 40 years ago. He prefers the dark of night, cursing the sun, sleeping in late and staying up all night, filling his veins with the mind-numbing power of heroin.
Our main guy loses his ambition and focus when he loses his fret finger, living the drunk life of one who will never see better days, pining for the old days and listening to Hal's twisted words of wisdom. Though he has no respect for God, he seems to find him in everything he does, feels God watching him, believes God is taunting him on his runaway mission. He hallucinates meetings with God, who challenges him during these final 6 days.
Mattson's writing is thick and chunky - he produces paragraphs that almost need to be chewed, before they can be swallowed. He is another very quote worthy writer. He are some beautiful lines from the story (that I just couldn't help tweeting):
"I did not look up because if there was a heaven I did not want any part of it".
"The heart is a wonderful and stubborn beast".
"Have you ever been in love? The kind of love that feels so good and bad at the same time that you just want to punch yourself in the face forever?"
Empty the Sun is packaged with a music CD by the band Six Organs of Admittance. I had never heard of the band before reading this book, and I had a hard time listening to the music AND reading the book, because my brain wasn't sure which thing it should be focusing on, so it attempted to focus on both at the same time. #readingfail.
I read a good chunk of the book first, then familiarized myself with the band's music, and happily married the two together for the final stretch. The instrumental guitar sounds of Six Organs of Admittance was a nice compliment to Mattson's book.
Which, of course, then led me to searching the internet for more instrumental music that would compliment all of the other novels that are patiently waiting to be read. And that search, well, it led me to creating this post about music to read to.
So I thanked Tyson at the beginning of the review, but I also owe a thank you to Joseph Mattson (1) for writing such an amazing novel and (2) for rekindling an old old old obsession of mine, music to read to.