Friday, February 19, 2021

The Tentmaker by Clay Reynolds


G ILBERT HOOLEY HAD long since given up the habit of carrying a timepiece. Nothing much happened in his life that required precise timing, and the rhythms of the community had long ago taken shape around routines governed by circumstance rather than time of day. On another account, remembering to wind a pocket watch twice a day required the kind of systemized responsibility that Hooley always tried to avoid. For more than a year, he had reckoned the time by the position of the sun or moon, or, if the weather was cloudy, by the brightness of ambient light.

Gilbert Hooley stands at the center of our novel. Is he our hero, or simply a man to whom things happen?

It is no spoiler to say that essentially the novel is the story of a man whose wagon breaks down and he simply decides to stay put. Gradually things happen around him. Much as a single grain of sand irritates the oyster until it produces a pearl, Hooley’s indolence, marked by similar incessant irritation allows things to accrete around his aggravated center.

This portion of the story is shambling and low-key, but absolutely delightful. Calls to mind the episode “Brown” from the vastly underrated television series “The Westerner.”

Hooley’s frustrations are so trivial and yet beautifully written we feel his impotence to succeed at even avoiding success.

There is a twin narrative. It follows a band of repulsive outlaws that could easily be found in a work by S. Craig Zahler. These interludes are blunt and tinged with extreme cruelty.

The tales do mix. The ending might have a series of deus ex machina coincidences at its core, but by this time the reader has enjoyed these twin tales and Hooley’s eternal bewilderment and we simply bask in the author having a good time with his curtain closing.

A superior novel.

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