Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Enon by Paul Harding

First published:-June 7th 2012

Published by:-Random House

Star rating:- 

It is an ominous sign when your trusted, steady flow of empathy tapers off into a reluctant drip while you were making your way around the misfortunes encountered by a fictional parent rendered newly childless. Are you being too coldly practical, perhaps, mentally asking this grief-addled father to pick up the pieces of his heart and kickstart his life like a pre-programmed cyborg? Is your work-tired brain refusing to let you feel an intense pity for this man who resorts to tripping himself up on drugs to have a daily hallucinogenic rendezvous with his dead daughter?

I dearly wish I could nip such nagging doubts in the bud by answering all these questions with a 'no'. But I can't. My feelings for this book are as vague as the state of the protagonist's chaotic inner world post his daughter's demise.

The themes of trauma and tragedy permeate literature of any merit right down to its bones ever so often, that it's hard to come by a new treatment of the same old soul-crushing sadness. While some authors add an outer gloss of dignity and self-restraint to their psychologically broken characters, others deftly interweave unforeseen outwardly manifestations of repressed grief with the ennui of carrying on with the daily routine. And this is where Paul Harding does things differently. 

He kills Charlie Crosby's carefully organized world in an instant, shoving him right down the gaping hole of nothing. Charlie has no story to tell anymore, no purpose left in life except giving us prolonged glimpses of the tendrils of darkness that coil around his waking moments threatening to choke him to death. He only pulls us along for this turbulent ride as he traverses the distance between the edge of utter madness and a saner place, between losing himself in the futility of preserving any and every remnant of his daughter's short-lived earthly presence and finding his footing in the treacherous bog of loss. And this is fine really. But what is his justification for pushing away his co-mourner, his wife? 

There's only a thin line of difference between grieving for a loved one and internalizing that grief to the point where you begin using it as an anchor keeping you tethered to the reality that was stolen from you, to the extent the sadness which was gnawing away at your insides bit by bit became so fattened on your weaknesses that it pushed out every other thing from your head to make space for itself. And Charlie treads on this thin line barely holding on to his balance, often crossing over into the territory of no-man's land.

"I could not stop myself from stepping over the same dark threshold, night after night, trying to follow her into the country of the dead in order to fetch her back, even though she visited me in dreams and never left my waking thoughts."

I do not claim a kinship with most kinds of life-threatening sadnesses, especially a grief so fatal as the one entailing the loss of a child, not yet anyway. But I have lost a parent at 14. So I hope Paul Harding forgives me for judging Charlie Crosby the way I did.

Maybe I have never felt important enough to accord my grief a higher place over all the other more terrifying griefs - many of them unknown to me - which befall fellow humans and compete for priority every second in this mystifying drama of life. Maybe it's a personal foible to revere the ones who carry the ineffaceable marks of psychological damage, yet muster the courage to wake up every morning and put in their share of effort to keep the world's engines running. Maybe it's a puerile thing to care for tortured, emotionally scarred, righteous heroes like Rust Cohle who find an all-encompassing nihilism to be the answer to the inherent unfairness of life yet battle with that nihilism every moment with hope. 

Whatever the actual reasons maybe, I could not sympathize enough with this hapless father's 'magical realist' tendencies to keep his daughter frozen in the amber of his dope-induced daydreams. Even Harding's thoughtfully wrought, ornate sentences chronicling Charlie's memories of the small rural town of Enon, which witnessed the birth and death of his daughter, couldn't help me establish that intense emotional connection I was expecting to form with this story-without-a-story. In some of the narrative's most lucid yet hazy moments, during the course of Charlie's scarily accurate depiction of despair in its rawest form - the terror of waking up from a nightmare where your loved one was constantly slipping away from your grasp - I came close to developing a sense of solidarity with his pain. But then these moments of sporadic brilliance were interspersed with numerous other iterations of similarly-themed moments which gave rise to nothing other than indifference in me.

On occasions like these, I wish I could align my reviewing methods with those who never rate books but simply move on after recording their experiences with it. Because how do you rate a grief-stricken father's lament?
This is why I am trying to believe that the noticeable absence of 2 stars will only underscore my apathy for infinite extrapolations of the aftermath of tragedy, paraphrased again and again until the reader becomes too jaded to care, and not my disregard for mourning as the key resonant theme. Because the latter assumption couldn't be further from the truth.

P.S.:-I have a feeling my experiences with Harding's Pulitzer winning book, Tinkers will fare much better.

Review also posted on Goodreads and Amazon

**I received an ARC from Random House via Netgalley**

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1 comment:

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