A young man struggles with overwhelming impulses and thwarted desires in Vierling’s darkly affecting debut novel.
Arriving in town by bus, Raymond is approached by a man suffering with a kidney stone. Although Raymond doesn’t want to, he assists him and ends up staying at the home of his new friend, Earl, and his wife, Clarissa. The outspoken, principled Earl takes a paternal interest in Raymond, and Clarissa mothers him, calling him “hon.” Raymond finds work at Earl’s former place of employment, an animal rendering plant, even though Earl warns against it, saying “[t]hat place will ruin a man.” Daily, Raymond fights the urge to retch as he deals with the gruesome sights and horrific smells of animal parts being rendered into soap and oil; it’s tough going, but he sticks with it. Eventually, he becomes smitten with a drinking buddy’s cousin, Jenny, but because he lacks polish, he scarcely knows what to do—and his buddy has also sternly warned him to stay away from her. When he finally approaches her, he’s too overwhelmed by her presence to engage in conversation, and as with many things in Raymond’s life, the reality falls decidedly short of the dream. Throughout the novel, the author allows Raymond only a few moments of happiness, as the character’s sometimes-brutal nature (and lack of nurture) often prevents them from coming into being. As in the works of Cormac McCarthy, the dialogue is without quotes, and scene after scene rings true, as each character utters lines in his or her own unique cadence. Raymond is a troubled man, an atavistic throwback caught by his need to be a man but not knowing how to go about it. Without the grace of love, embittered Raymond might have become a true American psycho. Overall, Vierling’s narrative is a stirring reminder of the fathering that’s necessary to ensure a boy’s passage into manhood.
A disturbing, heart-rending account of a young man caught in the abyss between desire and realization.