A debut drama follows an elderly man re-examining his life and beliefs as he awaits the imminent End of Days in 2012.
Somerset Garden returns to his home in Drums, Pennsylvania, shortly after the death of his wife, Nona. The couple had been living in Baltimore for more than 25 years, having abandoned Drums after their son, Cole, vanished on his 18th birthday. Somerset’s planning to renovate the old house but he’s also looking forward to the prophesied Armageddon on Dec. 21, the same day he turns 80. A former believer, he now blames a “heartless and imperfect God” for Cole’s disappearance and for a world wrought with famine, tsunamis, and other such calamities. He dives headfirst into his memories, recalling his angry, withdrawn son, who may have tried burning down a church. Even further back is the protagonist’s sadistic, hateful father, Blake, who recites Scripture while tormenting or beating Somerset and his older brother, Wally, with the latter often reveling in the parent’s savagery. Somerset’s life is filled with regret, including an inability to save his mother, Pearl, from the brutality she invariably endured. This may, however, be insights into a man’s fractured mind. He enters into frequent mental discourses with Nona and Cole, and converses with a porcelain-faced boy who, Somerset confesses, may or may not actually be in his house. The bleak, stream-of-consciousness narrative will likely have some readers questioning the legitimacy of Somerset’s recollections. The protagonist, for one, is inconsistent: unsure of his birth year but later settling on 1933, and contrarily asserting that God’s dead, absent, or a complete fabrication. Notwithstanding, Somerset is coming to terms with his past, including a fear that he’s capable of the same cruelty as his father. He isn’t reminiscing in sorrow, but audaciously confronting his failures—later scenes are both more revealing and more violent— and welcoming his potential end with open arms. Kalsi’s nonlinear approach is intelligible, with random voices in Somerset’s head easy to decipher: he’s Dutch to Nona and Pops to Cole. The author’s prose, too, is melodic, even at its strangest, like equating “misshapen country lemons” to baby squid.
With a labyrinthine, but coherent structure, this tale about an enigmatic widower turns out to be as sincere as it is dark.