L-J is an engineer living in company owned accommodation in Hoboken, USA. For six years he worked on the national grid’s New Jersey Transmission Project until a hand injury led to him being struck off sick. He had enjoyed dangling from pylons at great heights, aspiring to be one of the linesmen who work six inches from live wires – the entire voltage running through and around them. L-J has always wanted to be a part of things, connected to the grid. Despite this, life and those he encounters wash over him. The only connection he has ever truly felt is the bond with his mother back home in England. Now she is dying.
L-J needs an operation on his hand and is offered the chance to have the procedure done in the UK where he was born and raised. He decides to return to Dunwich on the Suffolf Coast, a place he left abruptly to travel to the USA. His flight home makes headlines when it suffers a malfunction, a glitch that causes it to plummet back down to earth. As chaos erupts around him, L-J calmly reflects on his job and the people he is returning to.
“everything is already broken, everything is prone to malfunction. We spend our entire lives trying to fix things when there’s no point.”
When L-J eventually reaches London he is met by his sister, Ellen, who appears to blame him for the inconvenience of his delayed arrival. Their relationship is fractured, with a history of resentments. Ellen is married to Paul and they are worried about the financial impact of the current recession – its threat to their livelihoods. She is angry that L-J left the UK in the way he did. L-J is put out that she does not show adequate interest in and concern about the flight on which he could have died. He recalls an incident when she attacked him as a baby. Although he only knows of this through hearsay, he still harbours anger that she does not voice regret for her childish actions.
“Nobody wants to spend time examining the blips in our lives, we just hope they’ll go away, but they don’t. They remain with us, like a scar that never fades.”
L-J stays in the family home, walks along the shore, relishes the memories evoked. He sits at his mother’s hospital bedside trying to comfort her and himself. The two have always shared a closeness born of outings, art and poetry. He is her beautiful boy, reading the books she suggested as a means to retain and strengthen their connection.
“that’s the beauty of poetry, there’s nothing to understand, only something to grasp.”
“by his early teens he’d already decided that he wanted to be an engineer. Poetry, apart from serving as the living umbilical cord between him and Mother, had no other use.”
Ellen wishes to discuss practical matters and rails against her brother’s attitude and behaviour. Her priority, as she considers their mother’s imminent death, is attaining monetary security – something L-J has no interest in. He values their childhood home for visceral reasons.
This is a strangely told tale. The writing has a detached feel. The protagonist, from whose point of view it is written, is there in each moment but also in imaginings triggered by conversation or events. His musings are distracted which can be somewhat disconcerting to read.
“Everything remains just under the surface of things”
L-J’s seemingly more practical sister is living in a different reality to his. She cannot comprehend his actions, past or present, and shows her irritation. He resents her material outlook and aspects of their shared history.
In the hospital, Mother’s health continues to deteriorate. Tied to their home for this period of time, L-J looks through cupboards and drawers finding photographs and letters that fill in gaps of knowledge from the family’s past. He considers these new facts a ‘rip in the fabric of our reality’.
The glitches in L-J’s life have proved pivotal even if they did not provide what he was hoping for. It is these that he holds on to, the harness that prevents him falling from height to his demise. Whatever Ellen demands, he must find a way to cope in his own way with their mother’s death.
A story of grief and the detachment needed to survive it – the free fall suffered when connections are severed. Although not always straightforward, the reflections evoked – the understanding of human nature – linger long after the last page is turned. A poignant and original read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Dead Ink.