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Michael Kimball

Michael Kimball is the author of Us, Dear Everybody, and Big Ray.

Blurbs

"[An] astonishingly moving novel . . . We're left gasping for air. . . ."

– Alec Solomita

"In this tender, gorgeous novel, Michael Kimball explores how we try to understand even the most difficult family members.”

– Leigh Newman

"[Big Ray is] a great character . . . He's dead at the start of the novel, and it's impossible not to wish him deader. . . ."

– Susannah Meadows

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Big Ray

He is in every sense an awful man but he's also sympathetic . . .

12/11/13

Michael Kimball’s Big Ray is the kind of book that will occupy your complete attention for at least fifteen minutes after Molly Gaudry hands you a copy to look through in her living room. You’ll be drinking tea and eating tea cookies, but you’ll have to stop drinking the tea so that you can turn the pages. You’ll keep eating the tea cookies, which you’ll shovel into your mouth faster and faster as you follow Kimball’s narrator’s brief flashes of sequential memory farther down their self-amending rabbit hole. You’ll be so into it, that you’ll be a little peeved when Molly takes the book away.

What’s immediately impressive about Big Ray is that it works exactly the way that memory works, at least some of the time. Daniel Todd Carrier’s father has, by the time the novel begins, died for some reason. His death could be attributed to any number of reasons, but those are hardly important. This isn’t a murder mystery or a medical exposé. This is a human novel about how a human son remembers his human father, who has recently become very humanly dead.

Kimball’s narrative unfolds through some of the most authentic, most honest prose that I’ve come across. When I was reading Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, someone told me that he wrote a chapter a day. It made sense; this method explained how he never got long-winded, how one chapter broke so naturally into the next. Despite the impossibly apocalyptic Ice-Nine and the off-the-wall Bokononisms it seemed honest, even confessional. Kimball’s bite-sized chapter sections, the longest of which are two and three paragraphs, do a great deal to make Big Ray feel at least as immediate, at least as “true.”

The titular Big Ray is a big, disgusting, abusive, dead man. His presence looms larger than his 500-pound frame in this book, and it’s easy to write him off as a caricature at first glance, but it’s hard not to sympathize with him. We see him as a boy, as a high school student that looks like James Dean, and as a Private First Class in the Marines, but never as someone who sets out to do the wrong thing. He is in every sense an awful man but he’s also sympathetic, and he’s a figure who you’ll find yourself wanting to know by the time you’re through the first few chapters.

Our POV character is a grieving son, who is equally intriguing. He leads us through memories of the immediate fallout of his father having been found dead in his apartment, and alternates this narrative with one constructed of childhood memories. All of these are presented from the perspective of an adult mind rationalizing these experiences little-by-little.

Toward the middle of the novel, Daniel Todd Carrier has been relating his history of abuse at the impossibly fast hand of his father Big Ray, when he offers this tiny, reflective interruption: “Sometimes, I still get the urge to fight my father. If my father weren’t dead, I would kick his ass.” This kind of evaluation is tempered with flashes of memory that express another kind of sentiment entirely: “Sometimes, in the mornings before school, my father would look at the way I was dressed and say, ‘Looking sharp.’ That always made me feel really good.”

Big Ray is a novel full of terrifyingly dry wit, disgusting medical problems, beautiful sympathy, and honest-to-god people. It’s a page-turner in the best sense of the phrase, and you’ll have a damn good time reading it.

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