I mean, isn’t it cool?
Black background…red balloon…white clown glove. What’s not to love?
And the title. The font of the title….
But, is the cover evocative of all kinds of quirky, impending highjinks…or merely a clever ruse to get one to buy his book?
The Grievers, penned by Marc Schuster (Permanent Press, May 2012) is about the loss of a sometime friend and how it affects one Charley Schwartz (who, despite what everyone seems to think, is not Jewish…), a conflicted, angst-ridden human dollar sign for an unnamed bank of somewhat regional repute, champion of correct-and-proper apostrophe use, who’s (checking…checking…) actually a sarcastically quick-of-wit doctoral student (not) working on his thesis, and who’s (still checking…) married to a wife in a constant state of quiet Freudian interior design demolition. To grow up or not grow up. Quit the job or not quit the job. Move forward…or continue allowing oneself to be inexorably run over by life’s daily and unrelenting–even dark–minutiae.
To be utterly blunt if not politically incorrect, this book had me laughing my ass off. I laughed so hard my eyes watered and several times had to temporarily suspend reading. My wife even pulled out the camera and recorded me in the throes of my literary hysterics.
Suicide–in and of itself–is no laughing matter, but it’s how the world responds to such Human Drama that can be the stuff of comedy–black or otherwise. Charley knew the deceased (Billy–his name’s Billy Chin). Well Kinda. They’d gone to prep school together, shared a dead cat in biology lab, as well as some twisted pop lyrics, as conveyed by another classmate…not to mention some shared looks at the deceased’s (Billy, his name’s–) stitched and razor-tracked forearm later in life. After the fact, Charley felt shame and remorse in not having been a better friend…in identifying nor taking action regarding his friend’s ultimate demise.
The Grievers was like watching a comedic train wreck. A miniature Theater of the Absurd. Mr. Schuster wove together the interestingly obtuse into a coherent and redemptive storyline that was a pure joy to read (and I don’t use the word “joy” much!). I enjoyed his words, their combination, their execution. The Grievers is controlled dysfunction. Keeping life safe and at arm’s length. Everything is a joke to Charley Schwartz until he embarks on his own form of revisionist history with the deceased (Billy Chin, dang it…). Yet, the book is not so much about all the individual events…the coming of age (at 28)…the seemingly utter bottom line of life (money)…friendship (or what friendship should be)…dissecting a cat named Fascia in biology class (and correctly identifying cat parts)…Marx Brothers, taking a flying leap, nor even anthropomorphic dollar signs. It’s about what it is to be human. It’s about the gestalt effect of the whole…meshugaas…on individuals.
No. He’s not Jewish.
The Grievers is an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon! And–whether or not Mr. Schuster intended this–there’s also something altogether metaphysical about Charley’s daily entrapment within said anthropomorphic dollar sign, being constantly bowled over by the “traffic of life” onto a soggy and wet lawn (and is it “just” a soggy and wet lawn…or is it a metaphor for his own soggy and waterlogged life…), unable to pick himself up on his own. Always having to use others to get things done (not to mention verbally abusing them along the way…). You’d think he could stand on his own two feet…pull his own weight…somewhere…but that’d be asking too much. He’d rather make life difficult. Crack a joke or three. The whole thing’s rather stunted…passive/aggressive even…but it’s too much to ask Charley to grow a pair, because, well, he obviously has challenges in that department identifying the correct and proper body parts, as evidenced in prep-school biology lab.
Well…at least his heart’s in the right place.