Friday, November 20, 2015

The King of Losers, by Justin Hood - review

Rating: 4/5

The narrative opens solipsistically in Michael August's morning work commute under heavy rain. His thoughts, focused on a grocery list, get derailed by the presence of a homeless beggar to whom he feels compelled to give away his umbrella. The act acquires a significance when it becomes apparent that giving away the umbrella becomes tantamount to giving up control over his life: Michael August gets lost. Lost in the London streets of a part of the city that he doesn't recognize, lost in his memories, lost in a reality in which fantasies lurking in the dark corners of hi subconscious suddenly intrude physically into his life. He befriends a dog, both a new attachment and the reminiscence of an old family dog.

The writing draws from magical realism and surrealism: it's not taking place in the the real world but it doesn't obey any implacable inner-mind logic either, floating as it does somewhere in between.

Michael August's excruciatingly (and, frankly, sometimes annoying) handicapping politeness prevents him from reaching out to passersby to get out of his predicament. The writing is imbued with tender indulgence for him, like M. Jones from the Bob Dylan song for whom 'something is happening here, but you're not quite sure what it is.'

The enigma that's laid out from the start is whether he's doing it all on purpose. Is he caving to some latent death wish or is it the exact opposite, a man who's been lost for years and finally wants to be found, to fall up, to give in to a life wish? It unfurls at a dreamlike pace, hinting at terrible appetites and unsuspected motives. As I neared the end of this read, I found that it didn't matter if Michael August was going toward something or running away from painful memories: his quest is the universal hunger for meaning.

There's also a backstory about the burgeoning love of an amateur artist for his model, which upends the notions of observer and observed, until the backstory flows into the main story and fits in a vital piece of the puzzle.

In the end, the story, moving incessantly back and forth in time to draw a picture that stands just out of time, resonates. We're all Michael August, or at least we've been this guy before.

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