Greetings, Story366! When last I blogged at you, I was finished with my Becky Hagenston post and was heading off to watch Game of Thrones and begin my summer vacay. Not sure if I had such a rousing launch to summer, as it rained all day and was cold, but I did take a nap in my office (that’s becoming a lovely habit) and I did do a big basket of laundry. I know what you’re saying: “Calm down. You need to pace yourself, Mike.” And you’re right. At this rate, I’ll be well rested and there will be no laundry to do—not even bedding—at all.
I also mentioned something yesterday about writing a novel today and losing forty pounds, and I’m pretty sure I’m in the red on both of those after the first day. I did get to read a good hunk of Kyle Minor’s second and most recent collection, Praying Drunk, out from Sarabande. Kyle’s an old friend of mine, as he was working as an instructor at the University of Toledo the same time I was just seventeen miles down the road at Bowling Green (the schools are rivals, in case you’re wondering … but Kyle and I were not). We also had books accepted by those upstarts at Dzanc at the same time, his (In the Devil’s Territory) the third release of the press and mine (Elephants in Our Bedroom) the fourth. We were also on the job market at the same time, often interviewing for the same slots, and if I’m not mistaken, we’ve pinky-sworn some secrets once or twice.
I’ve sadly avoided Praying Drunk for a while now, and a lot of that has to do with this weird-ass disclaimer that Kyle put at the beginning of his book: “Note to the reader: These stories are meant to be read in order. It is a book not just a collection. DON’T SKIP AROUND.” I’ve grabbed Praying Drunk a few times for this project, but then, remembering this little public-service announcement, moved on to a different book, not really feeling like reading the stories in order. I waited until summer for that very reason, this warning, so I could read the whole book and not just a couple of stories and move on, it being summer vacay and all, starting today. So, as that day has come, I’m sticking with Kyle Minor, because now I’ll actually have time to read the whole thing, in order.
Praying Drunk is cut up into two sections, and I’ve read the first few stories from Section I, “I Wish My Soul Were Larger Than This.” The first story is very metafictional, very Barthesque, as the narrator’s uncle shoots himself in the head in the first line—as told by the narrator—and the rest of the story is more or less questions about why the uncle did it, but also how the story should handle the suicide, how the reader should react, and why the author decided to begin his book (not collection) with this suicide; it’s called “The Question of Where We Begin.” I like that story a whole lot, but am going to write about the second story, “You Should Go Out With Joy and Be Led Forward With Peace.” That might be the longest title in Story366 so far this year, so I’m definitely copying and pasting that whole thing so I don’t have to keep retyping it.
As the first story utilizes an experimental technique—metafiction—“You Should Go Out With Joy and Be Led Forward With Peace” is a bit more traditional, but takes its own set of risks. Firstly, the protagonist in this story—from the first person present—is a guy named Kyle Minor, who just happens to be the author, in case you missed that. Does that mean this is a memoir more than a story? Is it like The Things We Carried and the author is just never going to say for sure (but we have to assume)? Or is that just the very coincidental name that Minor came up with in a random name generator? Not sure.
In any case, character Kyle Minor, 27 in the story, is reminiscing to a day when he was 12, standing under a star fruit tree. This is a solid image—who doesn’t like thinking about star fruit?—and Minor thinks so, too, as he repeats it several times. Is he trying to emphasize this line, this moment under this odd fruit tree? Not really, not as much as that’s a good touchstone for Kyle’s story, a point at which we know the author is recalibrating, bringing us back to his young self’s life, hoping to tell a story that happened at that moment, on that day. At first, Minor is coy about what’s really going on here, as the character Kyle Minor uses that standing-under-a-star-fruit-tree moment to launch into a whole bunch of stream-of-consciousness anecdotes that start at one place and very long-windedly move their way back to the kid under the star fruit tree. Those first couple of cracks at the story seem to be character Kyle stalling.
Eventually, though, what really happens on that day to twelve-year-old character Kyle is revealed: He gets the snot beat out of him, for the millionth time, by this kid name McKendrick and McKendrick’s goons. Once Minor gets to that, though, we get all kinds of angles on the story, the different occasions, etc. The story keeps starting again, putting Kyle back under that tree, and eventually the focus turns to another thread, that of character Kyle’s friend Tony, who is dying of cancer. This Tony thread is maybe why all of this stuff about the bullying and beatings come up, anyway, or maybe it is just stream of consciousness, that if we let this character keep talking, he would just keeping taking the thread to more and more places.
I won’t go into any more detail about what happens in “You Should Go Out With Joy and Be Led Forward With Peace,” though I will note that this story might not be about what happens, anyway. It’s about the tremendous prose that it’s written in, the big, sweeping sentences, the powerful verbs, and the two-page long paragraphs, how Kyle Minor the author is gifted in many ways, blessed with skills that a lot of writers don’t have. He’s a talent, and now that I’m off, I look forward to reading Praying Drunk to the end. It, and its author, are pretty brilliant.