The dreariness is as rich as the text.
The book’s opening story details how an unfortunate action accidentally leads to a man staring into the midst of his own slow death. It really sets the scene for the rest of the text in which many of the stories centre around decisions that men have made that lead to their own demise.
All stories, except two, are written entirely from the perspective of a male, with one of the exceptions written from the perspective of a wife of a dysfunctional male, and as such is still in the heart of being a dreary situation for a male. The other exception highlights the thoughts and motivations of both the male and the female in a casual sex encounter.
The question written on the cover of the book is, “What does it mean to be a man?” Although it appears there is a lack of real analysis of how thoughts of masculinity have shaped the men featured in the stories, the author does answer the question in a subtle way by featuring multiple male protagonists.
Most of the men featured have been hardened by labour or experiences in their lives, and admittedly, there are not any tales about successful men in the upper echelons of society. The males’ stories told are in many of life’s stages. We hear the voice of a child, a teenager, a middle-aged adult, and a senior male. We see how ideas of masculinity has led them to act a certain way.
When I first read the synopsis, I thought it would be more about male mental health, masculinity, and what being a man means in a contemporary setting. The novel ends with a story that is completely constructed as a dialogue between two brothers nearing the end of their lives and is symbolic of what I felt the book was missing: how changing ideas of masculinity affect men in contemporary society. The book is completely about hindsight—men are reflecting back on their lives, however, none of it is constructive; it is just a trip down memory lane.
Myers’ writing style is simple yet depicts abundant landscapes and flavourful scenes with words chosen that are full of power and meaning. This depth of writing makes up for this author’s inability to slowly create characters which a lengthy novel allows for, and to which you become emotionally drawn. In any case, the distance between the reader and each story’s character is necessary as the stories themselves are morose, even when the protagonist is not depicted as a surly type.
Reviewed by Rebecca Wu
Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: 4 May 2021