Novelist Martin (Our American King, 2007, etc.) charts a hard-bitten existence that spectacularly imploded.
If the author can be held accountable in good measure for burning his adult life to the ground, his childhood was a different matter. Martin draws a circumstantially sympathetic portrait of his father, a complex, thwarted man given to horrific rages who visited fists, kickings and verbal hatred upon his son and more of the same to his mentally unstable wife. The author reserves special ire for his mother, whose erratic behavior caused him much shame and humiliation. Martin’s prose is smoothly clipped, with a surprising amount of bounce, but readers will be singed by scenes of familial violence rendered cinematically and with awful clarity. Having survived the ordeal of childhood, the author proceeded to shoot himself in the foot. While the competent, conscientious “External Reality Team” in his head sought to maintain reasonable behavior, the “Guys in the Back Row” were speaking up for his darkest memories and deepest impulses. As a writer, Martin felt an artistic responsibility to let the Guys have their say, but ultimately they were not his friends, leading him down one self-destructive path after another. Marriage ruined, finances shattered, prospects nil, his diabetes untreated, he felt inside himself the beast his mother helplessly knew so well: “capable of loping into your life, getting you on the ground, and ravaging you.” It has been a long road back, and the voice of the latter pages has a touch of wobble in it. But it’s a hopeful wobble, and he offers some pungent words on living in awareness and how to avoid the beast—or at least not lay out the welcome mat for it.
A grim tale full of bite and ache.