Matt Sumell’s new novel is a collection of linked stories narrated by 30-year-old Alby. Alby was the only person in the room with his mother as she died suffering from cancer, and his grief is profound. He is not good at “making nice,” and he is horrible at grieving. He barrels down a path of self-destruction, abusing alcohol and his mom’s pain pills and inflicting injury — bodily or emotional or, for good measure, both — on anyone in his way.
Aggressive, angry and with a heart full of bitterness and hatred, he makes a string of bad choices. His vulgar, insulting attempts to pick up women easily fail, he leaves dead-end jobs regularly, and he can’t seem to maintain a connection with anyone except his immediate family. An unexpected compassion exists through the obscenity and brutal insults he throws at them. Though he swings punches at his sister Jackie; pitches his one-legged, drunk father over the side of a boat; and tries to rid his brother of his new wife, it’s evident he loves them and that their shared sadness and pain provide solidarity. In surprise tender moments that help break the stream of rage and anguish, Alby shows compassion toward creatures, too, including a newborn bird that’s fallen from its nest that he takes in to care for, his father’s mistreated cat, a grasshopper that’s fallen into the toilet bowl and his dog Jason.
Sumell’s somewhat-autobiographical debut is a powerful, insightful look into a man’s life in the aftermath of his mother’s death. As Alby fights, drinks and jokes along on his rampage of reckless self-hatred, he is a moving spectacle of the ravages of love and grief. Luckily, Sumell provides a bit of humor to ease the intensity of this emotional story. CV
Fay Jones was born with a love of literature, which was finely shored up throughout her early years by her parents & a beloved children’s librarian who wore the thickest glasses ever manufactured. Ms. Jones once won a coupon for a free ice cream cone after her suggestion for a name for the local Reading Is Fundamental mascot was selected.