Thursday, August 30, 2012
Review: Big Ray
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Release Date: Sept 2012
In a completely unplanned Year of Grief in literature, I fall head over heels for Michael Kimball's Big Ray.
If Michael's books were record albums, I imagine they'd sound like Hayden with a dash of Midlake and a big ole heap of Great Lake Swimmers - that lo-fi, slow indie rock sound - sweetly depressing, all enveloping, emotionally charged music that somehow makes you feel good as it talks about feeling bad.
I've yet to discover a Kimball novel that doesn't address death in one form or another. His Dear Everybody was a beautifully crafted collage of life gathered after one man's suicide. Us dealt with a husband's heart-wrenching attempt to refuse and then accept his wife's impending death. And now he gives us Big Ray, a son's tender, honest look back at the life and death of his abusive father and the impact it has had on his life.
You'd think that books about death would be sad and depressing, but not when they are created by Michael's hands. With each novel, he invents new ways of looking at death and dying and his unique approach to grief and loss leaves me breathless every single time.
The story of Big Ray is not an easy one for our narrator to tell. Initially relieved to hear of his father's passing, Daniel seems stunned by the lasting affect the death continues to have on him. Through a series of over five hundred short entries, Daniels feeds us snippets of his relationship with his dad growing up; the shame and humiliation he felt while Ray was alive, the physical and verbal abuse he, his sister, and his mom put up with; his father's struggle with obesity and the impact that had on his health and temper over the years; the nearly obsessive thoughts he's entertained over the years about the cause of his father's death and the way in which his father's body was found; and how he's handling life as a man with a dead dad.
Big Ray is a microscopic look at how the things we do and say scar a person's soul, leaving permanent reminders of us, for better or worse, long after we are gone. But it's not entirely morose. Michael's thrown in some dark humor and "yo daddy's so fat" jokes to lighten the mood a bit, and because, well, it's human nature to find the funny in the face of death. If we can't find something to laugh at, we'll only end up crying.