Let’s face facts, people. I, your humble typist, am not even close to being cool*. I’m not on top of the latest music, the hippest fashion, or the coolest drugs*2. The only arena (save for comics) that I can pretend to know about is books. As a bookseller in various capacities for the last 7+ years I’ve seen thousands of titles pass my way. I’ve even read some of them*3. However, even when it comes to books, I still fall a bit short of ‘guy you want at your ‘altbook goth poetry slam and appletini mixer’*4.
I’ve gotten weary over the years, especially of hype and marketing. It’s engendered in me no small amount of Bestseller Backlash*5. This extends to lesser-known authors in a ‘coolness mutation’ of the disease (which explains why I’m so McSweeney’s/New Directions/
Time went by, The Children’s Hospital stared at me accusingly each time I unpacked it from a Perseus Distribution box, and I got on with life. Then, as if by magic (or the weekly galley box sent to each Schwartz store from the home office), I saw a book by Chris Adrian with my name on it.
Did I dare? Well, yeah, or I wouldn’t be writing about it. I tore through
Make no mistake; these aren’t quirky slices of life or faith-affirming meditations on mankind’s foibles. What’s in this book, in every story without exception, is sadness, nearly incommunicable rage, twisted pathos and the ever-present specter of death. Having never read
The central question in so many of the stories in A Better Angel is “How does a person deal with death?” The death of loved ones, the death of innocence, the death of spirit in the face of atrocity. The answers proffered won’t help you sleep better at night, but they will make you think hard about your own response to tragedy. This book is not a positive coping mechanism; quite the opposite, it is a rage-filled howl against the inadequacy of emotion and the way in which terrible events weigh down everyday lives.
A Better Angel is definitely not for the faint of heart; it is for the questioners and the seekers who are open to plumbing the depths of anguish and living in the chilly recesses of tortured minds for the space of a story now and then.
*I’m not fishing for compliments here. It’s a simple statement of fact. Let it be.
*2 No “meth-mouth” for me, thanks. Drugs are bad. You heard it here first.
*3 Not many classics, too much genre trash, and a fair amount worth recommending here.
*4 Catch the next mixer at Recreational Sherpa’s;
*5 A particularly virulent book-borne form of elitism that causes sufferers to recoil from any book that comes highly recommended by any print or online publication (except The Inside Flap), or sells a lot of copies.
*6 “It’s Garcia Marquez, jerk!” I’m aware, but go into any bookstore and you’ll find him shelved in both ways. I don’t make the rules, I just bend them to make weak alphabet jokes.
*7 I know; I seem to start a fair amount of my book recommendations by saying that I held off on reading a book and found I was wrong to do so. What can I say? I spend a lot of time being stubborn and wrong. I could have just come out and said as much, but who am I;
“I don’t know what I’m doing here either. While I’ve got your attention; don’t vote for that Barack Hussein Obama feller. He’s a ‘risky’ choice. I hope you take my Southern Strategy meaning when I say ‘risky’.”
*8 I actually know next to nothing about Saxby Chambliss or his reading habits, save for that he’s a Republican and therefore alternates The Bible and Ann Coulter and is most likely evil. Plus, he’s got an ‘old money’, funny-sounding name worthy of mockery.