A clever, devastating tale…

Yesterday I read Big Ray (Bloomsbury) by Michael Kimball. It was so good as a piece of writing that I really enjoyed reading it, so hard as a piece of life that I wanted to stop reading about half way through. But it also had some darkly funny moments, and a bruised tenderness and understanding.  Kimball has written this short novel in 500 brief pieces – some are only two or three lines long, others a paragraph or two – and his matter-of-fact, understated, not a word wasted style makes the all-at-the-same-time operatic, banal, horrifying and everyday tale and it’s characters feel immediate, real and important.


The story is told by Daniel, a middle-aged man, coming to terms with his father’s death. Big Ray was mean, nasty and obese and a really awful father. Daniel attempts to think about his father’s life and his death, to find reasons for the man being or becoming who he was, to try to understand him – as Daniel says “you want to like your father” and Daniel has a good run at it but keeps returning, in Kimball’s spare, undramatic sentences to the realities of having Big Ray as a father. I don’t think he does like Big Ray in the end: Daniel is glad Big Ray is dead while at the same time being aware, with a great sense of loss, that he is now fatherless. Big Ray’s death means that there is no longer a chance of him changing, of him becoming a better father and so Daniel has more to grieve for than just Big Ray’s death. As you learn more of Big Ray’s story, you get a sense of a man who was always lost really, and you are very pleased that Daniel and his sister seem to know very well just exactly where they stand.

Really worth reading: beautiful, orginal writing but take care, this is not an easy tale…


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