cover image Big Ray

Big Ray

Michael Kimball. Bloomsbury, $22 (192p) ISBN 978-1-60819-854-2

Kimball’s novel starts with death, but what’s really sad is the life the dead man—Big Ray, the narrator’s father—lived. Unhappy child of unhappy parents, Ray becomes an abuser who eats himself to 500 pounds. His wife gone, children grown, Ray’s body is found only when his apartment manager comes looking for the rent; as his son says, “I’m glad my father didn’t die at the beginning of the month. I don’t know how long it would have been before somebody found him.” This stark depiction of the wages of isolation is typical of the book, which Kimball (Us) tells in 500 brief snippets that refuse to add sentiment or excuse to the difficult facts the narrator feels compelled to relate. Facts is a funny word here, as is compelled—but the book reads like a memoir, the entirely believable product of a son grappling with the death and life of his father. The narrator talks frankly of his estrangement and efforts to connect, the abuse he suffered and his mixed feelings; the obituary, he notes, listed those who preceded Ray in death and those who survived him. “I’m one of the people who survived,” says Big Ray’s son. Kimball shows the truth of this, but also its sad, shifting complexity. Agent: Phyllis Westberg, Harold Ober Associates. (Sept.)