Enon is a Beautifuly Written but Dull Book

ENON (2013)
By Paul Harding
Random House 978-9400069439
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Normally it’s very bad form to give away the plot of a book, but Enon isn’t a plot-driven book, so here it is: Charlie Crosby, his wife, and his daughter are living a humble but happy life along the shores of Lake Enon. One day a car strikes his bike-riding daughter, Kate, she dies, and Crosby’s dreams pop like soap bubbles. He loses his wife and his grasp on reality. At some point he gets a little bit better. That’s it.

In the hands of a lesser writer, Enon (none spelled backwards) would be the sort of book you’d toss aside after you slogged through 50 pages and concluded that the plot wasn’t going anywhere. Paul Harding is not just any writer, though; one of the best ways to describe Enon is to call it a beautifully written bad book. Because the plot is far too thin to sustain a 212-page novel, Harding plumbs the depths of Charlie’s memories, impressions, depression, and fantasies. But it’s not even accurate to call this an interior novel; Harding’s poetic descriptions of Enon, the marsh, the cemetery, the lake, and other such externals are, if anything, even more brightly illumined than Charlie’s despair. (Enon is patterned on Massachusetts North Shore towns such as Georgetown, where Harding resides.)

Those who’ve read Harding’s 2010 Pulitzer-winning debut novel Tinkers will recognize Charlie as the grandson of that book’s narrator, George Washington Crosby. You will also see him as a chip of the block one generation removed: a man with such heightened senses and powers of observation that he can’t focus well enough to be much more than minimally competent in all things mundane (like school, work, home repairs, or being a husband). He was, however, spectacularly good at being a father.

Harding is a terrific writer. Alas, this does not make him a great storyteller. I don’t wish to sound unsympathetic to the set-up. I can’t imagine what could be more horrifying for a parent to lose a 13-year-old like Kate–on the cusp of adolescence, whip smart, funny, coltishly cute, and kind. Harding does a masterful job of showing Charlie’s deep slide. Since Charlie is only tangentially connected to routine in the first place, Kate’s death jump-starts a quick getaway from reality. Or is it an excuse? Is it simply easier to exist as an addled bum and only live in memories and fantasies of Kate? I’m sure it would be hard for anyone to pick up the pieces, but after a while it’s hard to sustain empathy for Charlie. He, in effect, becomes a plebeian Howard Hughes, but without the romance and myth associated with the latter's slobbery.

Charlie is totally fixated on Kate and her death, but the constant reminder of this eventually wears on readers the same way that a constant whiner begins to grate. Harding employs an episodic structure rather than a conventional narrative, but it’s not clear what Harding wants us to do other than feel bad for Charlie’s loss. We get the fact that Charlie’s paralyzed by grief–pretty early on, in fact. This leaves us with an endless array of episodes that are repetitive and substantively indistinct, even when surface specifics differ. We marvel over Harding’s prose, but it’s simply not enough. Perhaps this would have made a better novella; by page 100 I found myself skimming for lyricism rather than resolution. When the later comes, it feels implausibly abrupt and contrived. Is this the classic sophomore slump? That may be too harsh, but one hopes that Harding spends more time plotting his next novel; his elegant word baubles deserve to hang from tall redwoods, not spindly scrub pines.

Rob Weir


Jamie Kent Rocks the Folk on New EP

Embers and Ashes
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The term ‘folk rock’ has been around for so long that we often forget that there are performers such as Richard Thompson, Ellis Paul, Stephen Stills, and Ray Lamontagne whose cadences, sensibilities, and musical souls are such that they rock even when they’ve got an acoustic guitar in their hands. Add Jamie Kent to that list. We’ve seen him rock out with The Options, but check out his new solo EP, Embers & Ashes and you’ll hear a ‘rock folk’ artist at work. The project features clever turns of phrase such as “I may be broke, but I am not broken,” and “Don’t like the losing, but I don’t mind getting lost.” Chronicles of adversity? Not exactly, but Kent does remain true to the EP’s title–all five songs deal with things unsettled that don’t always comfortably resolve.  “Still a Dream” isn’t about busted visions, rather the inability to match dreams with waking reality, and is sung with appropriately plaintive vocals. “Bonfire” is about passions that burn so hot they burst into flame, and comes with crashing cadences and kick-out-the-jams frantic energy. The content of “Prince of Pain” is self-explanatory and its arrangement is typical for Kent: start slow, punch it up a notch, and let it rip.

Rob Weir


Second Amendment Tyrants

Still think there’s a dialogue to be held on guns in America? What happened to Dick Metcalf ought to disabuse you of that fantasy. Metcalf lost his job as a journalist for saying that it might be necessary to pass “some” gun regulations. He went on to say, “all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.” Here’s the kicker: Metcalf is a veteran writer for Guns & Ammo and one of the nation’s most ardent supporters of the Second Amendment. He wasn’t talking about a ban; he was speaking about “regulations” such as keeping guns out of the hands of mentally ill people. Several gun manufacturers–one of which was Ruger–demanded that Metcalf be silenced.

This isn’t the first time. The New York Times–a publication I hasten to add that is more attentive to the First Amendment than gun manufacturers–­reports that in 2012 Jerry Tsai of Recoil was forced to resign for saying that a high-powered weapon used by law enforcement wasn’t available to the public “and with good reason.” Also fired was Jim Zumbo of Outdoor Life who had the effrontery to say the military-style assault weapons were for terrorists and that hunters should avoid them.

I suppose gun control supporters can take heart that gun whackos are eating their own, but they should also note the fanaticism in their actions. None of these men said anything suggestive of serious curtailment of the Second Amendment and were still persecuted with vigor. I’ve called the NRA the “Nazi Rifle Association” and have taken flak for being a foolish extremist. Who’s the fool now? The suppression of free speech is a classic Brown Shirts maneuver, quickly followed by the establishment of a narrow orthodoxy and the vigorous suppression of even the mildest dissent. What next, gulags for gun doubters? Isn’t it crystal clear the NRA and gun manufacturers have absolutely no respect for the democratic process?

Meanwhile, guns killed some 33,000 Americans last year. Even worse, there were two dozen mass murders after Sandy Hook. Now guess how many gun laws Congress passed last year? The time for dialogue over this issue is done, over, kaput. Second Amendment fanatics have banned all consideration and compromise; now they have banned conversation itself. It is incumbent upon citizens’ groups to pressure state and local governments to enact regulation. Go wild! Some regulations may be struck down an unlawful, but go ahead and pass them. It’s a time-honored American custom to bankrupt one’s foes, so let the NRA spend its resources in the courtroom instead of buying Congressmen. Don’t waste your breath explaining your motives–the fanatics aren’t listening. You cannot compromise with such enemies; you simply must defeat them.