A Breathless Humanity: The TFT Review of Michael Kimball’s US
One of the strange things about sadness is that it’s addictive, or at least it is to me. I mean true sadness. I mean how it feels to be moved or unsettled. I mean sadness that requires a type of letting go of yourself and trying to come to an understanding of humanity. Michael Kimball’s US (Tyrant Books, $14.95) is the sort of novel that possesses this strange kind of humanity and sadness. I started reading it at Tyrant Books editor Giancarlo DiTrapano’s NYC apartment last month and was struck with how it left me with such a residual impression of enormous sadness.
This is the story of a man whose wife is dying. There are sections narrated by their grandson, named Michael Kimball, who years later tries to understand the reality of love and dying in his grandparents’ story as well as his own life and marriage. Reading his grandmother’s diary entries, he explores “how love can accumulate between two people and over through two lifetimes.”
Writing about sadness requires a certain type of skill in voice and prose to reach readers and help us feel human, and Kimball succeeds. His prose is short and raw: “I saw the exhaust coming out of the exhaust pipe of our car and it made me think that my wife must still be breathing somewhere back up inside that hospital.” This is the way of good prose. Under 200 pages, the novel isn’t interested in long, baroque descriptions, or even in being didactic; rather, its peculiarity and brevity of expression are strikingly powerful.
I found Kimball’s novel skillfully written and bold and generous. Its greatest strength is the sensitivity with which Kimball explores the complexities of understanding pain and watching someone you love die. US is a book that evocatively renders the static of sadness into a breathless humanity.
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