Saturday, September 28, 2013
by Paul Harding
Random House 2013
256 pages Fiction
Enon by Paul Harding is a painful, existential journey through grief. Written in the first person, it has been called a "tone poem" by one reviewer, and a surreal, apocalyptic odyssey by another. Clearly, Harding has charted new ground with his second novel. Enon is haunting to read and it continues to haunt long after you have set it down.
Charlie Crosby is a small town man, the grandson of the narrator of Harding's Pulitzer Prize winning Tinkers. He is the town handyman--landscaper and house painter--husband, and father of 13-year-old Kate. We barely know his wife Susan, and do not meet Kate in reality because she is killed in a car-bike accident in the book's first scene. All we know of Kate is in the imaginings about her in Charlie's mind.
So much of Charlie is invested in Kate that when he loses her, his whole world falls apart, and for the year following her death, he wallows around in a grief so profound that it seems he will never recover. When Susan leaves him, he has no one for support. His entire being is consumed with remembrances of Kate, his childhood, and Enon, his home village that has been a part of history since the 1600s. As he descends into an alcoholic and drug-induced blur, those elements become so confused in his brain that he can't separate one from the other. All of his hallucinations include Kate. He roams the village and the surrounding fields and lake at night and often sleeps behind Kate's grave in the village cemetery. He covers the mirrors in his dirt-encrusted house so that he won't have to look at himself. In his few moments of clarity, he realizes what he is doing to himself, but he is incapable of keeping himself from this long, torturous route to suicide.
The writing is breathtaking: "I was ravenous for my child and took to gorging myself in the boneyard, hoping that she might possible meet me halfway, or just beyond, one night, if only for an instant--step back into her own bare feet, onto the wet grass or fallen leaves or snowy ground of the living Enon, so that we could share just one last human word."
I know from experience the many ways in which grief manifests itself. I particularly remember an acquaintance whose husband died abruptly leaving her with four children. She locked herself in her bedroom for about six weeks during which time her children were left in the care of the oldest daughter. When my husband died not too long after that, I had learned enough from my acquaintance's experience that I remained fully present for my children, most likely at the expense of my own grief. Additionally, it is obvious that the grief of losing a child is far worse than the grief of losing a spouse, a sibling, or a parent. The grief envelopes Charlie because he has no one else. He is utterly alone.
No one knows how they will respond to profound grief. We comfort ourselves by saying, "Well, I wouldn't act that way." We try to learn from the experiences of others. And, no two experiences of grief are quite the same. The experience of Charlie's grief in Enon is unique to Charlie, but we learn from him, none the less.
Paul Harding says of his writing: "Basically, what I want to do with my reader is break your heart and blow your mind." Enon is not for the faint of heart. It steals your soul.
Working It Out by Abby Rike is a memoir of grief after losing her husband and two children in a automobile accident. I am intrigued by the premise of the new book The Returned by Jason Mott which explores what happens when dead loved ones actually do return to their families. It's on my Kindle but I haven't read it yet.
A brief article Harding wrote about the writing of Enon in the Boston Globe: http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2013/08/24/author-paul-harding-his-follow-tinkers/WCY3CQ7ucDjM7IPEpRPvYN/story.html
A good review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/books/222582481.html