Saturday, May 6, 2017

Book Review: "The Half-Life of Remorse" by Grant Jarrett

Many believe that people come into our lives for a reason—to provide support or companionship during a critical time, to impart knowledge or wisdom we might not otherwise gain, or to help us reach a goal we might have believed was unattainable.

When Chick and Sam meet, both have been living on the streets for some time. Neither is exactly sure for how long, or is really interested in dwelling on how they came to this point. Both have held jobs from time to time to help them survive, but for the most part, it's been their survival instinct that has kept them alive, although both might question if seeking shelter and food wherever you can find it, no matter how unsavory, is really living.

"When you live out here on the street, it don't matter much what town you're in. One place is pretty much the same as the other far as I can tell, and I figure I been around more than most. Sure, some places maybe got nicer weather than others, and some's got cops or thugs, which is pretty much the same thing, with nothing better to do with their time than roust some poor beggar from a park bench or a bus station so the rats can have it to theirselves, but still in all, you figure out what's what soon enough if you want to keep breathing, which maybe sometimes you do and maybe sometimes you don't."

Sam sees in Chick somewhat of a kindred spirit, although they are very different from one another, but Sam invites Chick to share the rudimentary shelter he has put together under the stairway of a church. Sam insists he is a wizard, one who has lived for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, so Chick worries a little bit about Sam's mental condition, but little by little they begin to trust and count on each other, and Chick helps find ways to make their meager day-to-day existence a little more palatable.

Chick has spent his adult life haunted by a crime he was part of when he was a teenager. He's never been able to shake what he saw, or his guilt in simply just being a bystander as things unfolded. When Sam starts having visions of a man in trouble, a man whose life is apparently in danger, he wants to try and help. And when Chick realizes what Sam's visions mean, he must make a critical decision: does he help Sam return to the scene he keeps seeing in his mind's eye, and risk having to divulge his own role in the incident, or should he let Sam's delusions continue?

Meanwhile, Claire, Sam's daughter, hasn't seen her father since she was very young, but she's never given up hope that he'll return to her someday. She lives with her own emotional and physical pain, but she is unprepared for what her lifelong wishes might mean for all those involved.

The Half-Life of Remorse may turn on a very convenient coincidence, but it doesn't lessen the power of this book. This is a story about two men trying to steer clear of their past, although only one really knows what they're doing. It's also a story about the kindness of strangers, and the empathy one shows another, even when doing so may be harmful or hazardous to themselves. It's also the story of love and redemption, hope and the power of memory, and the beauty of friendship.

The book shifts narration among all three main characters, and Sam's portions take a little bit of getting used to, because he uses very fancy words befitting of his perception of himself as a wizard. But the emotions, particularly in Chick's parts, are palpable even though he is a man of few words, and you can tell he really doesn't know how to handle the situation he's found himself in. The other quirk is that because Chick, in particular, isn't well-educated, his narration tends to have a lot of "must ofs" instead of "must haves," and other grammatical errors. (I seriously had to turn my inner editor off when reading those sections.)

Grant Jarrett is a pretty fantastic writer. While his first book, Ways of Leaving (see my original review), had almost a Tropper-esque vibe to it, this book is more spare in its narration, at times reminding me a little of Kent Haruf. He really deserves some renown for his talent, and perhaps The Half-Life of Remorse may push him into the spotlight. It certainly should.

NetGalley and SparkPress provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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