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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Strong story by an author widely published but unknown to me -Tim Parks

Tim Parks is a name I keep seeing around - and it's no wonder, as the NYer, where his story Reverend appears this week, notes in his bio that he's published something like 14 novels - so how come I can't place him at all? How do some of these guys publish so much and fly under the radar, so to speak? No major awards, no breakout book, no single work to define a style or establish a working ground? I honestly would have guessed his a writer from the NW, and maybe I'm confusing him w/ someone else - Tim Robbins? Tom McGuane - In any event, his story this week is set entirely in England, so maybe he's British (British publishers, it seems, are far more loyal or patient than American to their writers, and will go w/ someone for a dozen or more books w/out a single breakout). Parks's story is very subtle and sorrowful, about a late 50s man, recently divorced, whose mother has just died at 90 after 30 years of widowhood, and because of some comments his mother makes seeking assurance about the death 30 years back of her husband/his father, he begins to reflect on the life of his father - a reverend in, I guess, the Church of England, who was a distant and domineering presence in the family, and the son who's the center of this story survived by being the good son - while the rebellious older son and the under-achieving sister bore the brunt of the father's pent-up rage, he quietly got by through meekness and compromise, personality traits that now he thinks may have  led to his divorce and late-life solitude. Much of the family drama eluded him; the story recounts one scene during a time when the father flirted w/ the charismatic movement and tried to exorcise the older son - a scene that the protagonist hears through closed doors, mysterious. There a very beautiful closing image of father and son swimming in the cold sea - but the son swimming away from the father, maybe a little overdone but nicely symbolic of their troubled relationship. The mystery of the story is the father's outbursts at the mother during the time he was dying of brain cancer, when he calls her a whore. This is what the mother seeks reassurance about near her own death: it was just his illness speaking, right? But in raising this matter she adds a very troubling note to the story; are there depths and darknesses to their seemingly upright and placid relationship that nobody - certainly not the surviving son - knows about or can comprehend? It's kind of a horrifying thought - to be cursed and damned by someone on his deathbed, and part of the mood of this story comes from the sense that this scene, just faintly described, may have troubled or even tortured her for 30 years. It's a wound that the son cannot salve - and that pushes him to try to recollect and reconstruct what he can of his own difficult relationship with the demanding father. The religious overtones are apparent: his attempt to understand his father is analogous to supplication before a distant - a dead? - god.

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