Monday, May 4, 2015

Book Review: "Know Your Beholder" by Adam Rapp

When I started reading Adam Rapp's Know Your Beholder I expected it to be a vaguely hipster-ish lament about a musician with slacker tendencies. Having never before read anything that Rapp has written, I was honestly surprised at the complexity of the characters, the humor, and the emotions this book contained. And for me, there are few things better than a book that pleasantly surprises you and surpasses your expectations.

Francis Falbo is in his mid-30s, a former musician living in the small town of Pollard, Illinois. He's struggling quite a bit—he's still mourning over the end of his marriage (despite the fact that his wife has moved on and gotten remarried), the death of his mother, and the end of his band. Winter seems endless, he has been stranded in his apartment for a while now, and he's taken to growing a colossal beard and wearing the same bathrobe over and over. And even if he could leave the house, he's finding himself in the grips of a pretty debilitating case of agoraphobia.

"Is this approaching grace? I wonder. Or is the aggregate narrative of my life a series of small, ill-shaped rationalizations that mask an enormous failure? I probably won't know until I reach old age, if I'm that lucky."

The only thing Francis has going for him is that he has divided his childhood home into several apartments, and all are full, relegating him to a cozy apartment in the attic. His tenants are a motley crew—a former Olympic athlete; an artist with a curious portfolio; a former teacher with a heart as big as his enormous stomach; his ex-brother-in-law, a stoner trying to disengage from life; and a pair of former circus performers whose young daughter has gone missing, and they're not overly interested in helping the police try to find her. While Francis is struggling to overcome his own problems, he can't help but become immersed in everyone else's lives, which leads him to make some questionable decisions and occasionally act in unlandlord-like ways.

Francis pines for his ex-wife and wishes that they could get back together. He also misses his band, mourns the circumstances that led to its demise, and wishes he and his bandmates could reunite. But when both his ex-wife and an old friend return to his life in different ways, he realizes that life doesn't always give you what you want the way you want it. And he makes a surprising discovery about his mother, which deepens his feelings of loss for her, and makes him realize she was even more complicated than he ever knew.

"I'm convinced that part of leaving someone is carefully arranging the pain that will be left behind. Like gluing a broken dinner plate to the wall."

I really enjoyed this book tremendously. Even though it was a little zany in places, Rapp's storytelling ability made me chuckle, made me think, and even made me get emotional from time to time. Francis is a far more complex character than he appeared, and although I'll admit the constant descriptions of people's lack of hygiene made me a little queasy (I'm squeamish; what can I say), I found Know Your Beholder quite compelling and I needed to keep reading to see how Rapp would tie the story together.

Maybe it's because his brother is Anthony Rapp of Rent fame, but for some reason I kept picturing Adam Pascal (who played Roger in the original Broadway cast and the motion picture adaptation) as Francis. I think this would be a tremendously interesting movie, but regardless, it was a really enjoyable book.

No comments:

Post a Comment