Enon, Paul Harding's second novel after Tinkers, his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut, follows Charlie Crosby—grandson of Tinkers' George Washington Crosby—over the course of the year after his only daughter Kate is struck and killed by a car. In an interview, Harding says:
The first image I had from Enon was one of these weird, super-highly-articulated silhouettes of a steep hill that was studded with headstones, and at the top of it was a silhouette of a guy creeping over the crown of the hill. At the same time, at the bottom of the hill, I knew, was his daughter's headstone, and he was sneaking behind her headstone because he was ashamed of what he'd been up to.
It is a hard year for Charlie. He more or less drives his wife into leaving him, breaking his hand in the process. Popping painkillers, he shuts himself off from all social connection. Eventually, he starts sneaking into homes in the middle of the night in search of more drugs. That is the gist of the plot, but Enon is not a plot-driven story.
My main interest is in character, and the hallmark and defining quality of character is consciousness, and the defining quality of consciousness is experience, and my job is almost purely descriptive and immersive. It's to immerse the reader in all these characters as they are suffering.
Charlie is a complex character, not easily summed up. He is smart but unmotivated, and it's easy to understand why his wife would choose to leave him. The only reason we are willing to abide Charlie is the nuanced skill with which Harding describes his overwhelming love for his daughter, the one thing Charlie actually cares about. By allowing us to unflinchingly inhabit and take measure of Charlie's consciousness, Harding opens him up to our empathy.
It is a sad book. My interest in it was the ultimate threat of obliteration or nihilism...to set this guy in a very stark and existential realm and find out where hope is... I visualized it like telescoping frames of subject and predicate. Kate is Charlie's subject, but Charlie is our subject. So the experience of the book is the reader watching him regard his daughter.
Charlie isn't just ruminating on his daughter, however. He is completely aware and able to describe his own shortcomings, and he perceives that his actions fall short of his expectations for himself, even imagining his daughter judging him from beyond the grave. This is a hallmark of depression: Charlie's awareness of his troubling behavior only serves to make him feel worse.
I became more and more interested in the very recognizable human circumstance in which we all find ourselves: pondering the discrepancy between what we know and how we feel. I allowed Charlie to negotiate that. He feels ashamed of the way he's acti
ng, and yet he can't stop acting that way because of his grief. But he knows better throughout most of the book, that he shouldn't be breaking into people's houses.
Enon is dark, but it is also beautiful. Harding's lucid and poetic prose carries the emotional weight of the story and propels it forward. Through the eyes of a man addicted to his own despair, Harding is able to approach the sorts of things that verge on being unavailable for articulation, at the extremes of human experience.
I've always thought that I could get through anything, but the prospect of losing a child, and especially an only child, just seems impossible to me. Part of the challenge that I set for myself was not just to write normatively about it, nor objectively about i
t, but to explore the experience subjectively through this one guy's experience of it.
Walter Heymann is a freelance writer and screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles.