Hill William, Scott McClanahan, Tyrant Books, 2013, 200 pp
Here is another book I would never have come across if not for The Tournament of Books. It is a coming of age tale but not much like any such story I have read before.
The opening sentences: "I used to hit myself in the face. Of course, I had to be careful about hitting myself now that I was dating Sarah. One night we got into a fight and I went into the bathroom to get rid of that sick feeling in my shoulders, and I did it. I wasn't feeling any better afterwards, so I hit myself in the face one more time."
I don't know to whom I could recommend this book. It is dark and gritty and unrelievedly disturbing. I guess I could recommend it to people like myself who like to read dark and gritty stuff. It is the story of a boy who grew up in poverty in Appalachia with bad parenting and numerous sociopathic types for boyhood friends and neighbors.
It is also a story of this young man trying mightily but not completely successfully to overcome his origins. I'm pretty sure it is autobiographical so the fact that Scott McClanahan has written and published six books is proof that he is in some ways winning his battle.
I read stories like this to remind myself now many people in the United States live so far from the "American Dream," lest I forget. Whatever the American Dream is though, it is a powerful force and here is this guy reaching for it in his own way.
Reading Hill William, I felt ridiculous for ever once complaining about my life. I realized again what an awesome responsibility it is to be a parent. I wondered for the billionth time why life in the world has to be the unbalanced mess that it is. Yes, the resilience of the human spirit, that driving force of fiction, produces amazement whenever we contemplate it, but I can't help wondering if the optimism with which I regard that resilience is misguided.
Getting better, making progress, being and doing and having more? Is that a worthy plan for a sentient being? Is there even an answer to that question? It's what we do no matter the cost.
(Hill William is available in paperback and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)