A very kind Benjamin Rybeck high-fives SCANDAMERICAN DOMESTIC at the top of his Best of 2014 book list — a “special mention that don’t quite seem at home on a top 10 list!” He goes on to note:
Rybeck goes on to note:
“Obsessive and purposefully flat, Merkner’s book is a triumph of unpleasantness, and his stories are Midwestern gothics, focused on bleak and colorless domestic spaces. Of course this book escaped notice: when I reviewed it at the beginning of the year, I barely knew what to do with it myself. Yet it stuck in my brain, and Merkner, if he can stay true to the dark impulses that made this book so strange and challenging, will have a great career ahead of him.”
Rybeck, dude, this is incredibly kind of you. This idea that the book is “challenging” is really rewarding to me. It’s also rewarding that Rybeck thought of me again for this, because he’d written a fairly tough review of SCANDAMERICAN DOMESTIC earlier in the year. I like his take on the violence of the book:
Then there’s the violence, which exists alongside the banality of domestic life; as a result, many of these stories feel like David Foster Wallace’s definition of the word Lynchian. A mother and her baby are the victims of a hit and run. Dogs get their throats slit. Children are drowned. “Of course I entertained violent acts,” a character confides at one point. “I am only human.” In Scandamerican Domestic’s world, humanity is a dangerous affliction.
And I also like his more challenging assessment of my characters:
In fact, many of Merkner’s characters are unable to muster much involvement in their lives. And after 203 pages of this, I had some trouble myself. I had become one of Merkner’s mannequins, indifferent to the violence of a story like “When Our Son, 36, Asks Us for What He Calls a Small Loan,” in which a son casually stabs his mother. When no character takes anything seriously, it’s hard for the reader to either. One of Merkner’s characters—a doctor—says that most of his patients “need someone to scare the shit out of them.” Many of Merkner’s characters need the same thing. But in a book with so much depravity, how can anyone be scared shitless? How can anyone—these characters, or even the book’s readers—not simply become desensitized to the horrible things that happen?
Lots to think about in his review for me, lots to ponder. I can’t really disagree with him, not that it matters if I agree or disagree. But I think I would follow-up these reflections by tweaking one of his questions about the book: In a world with so much depravity, how can anyone be scared shitless? I think it’s something we really need to study, and it’s this question I am working on right now in my next book.
Rybeck’s full jump is here: http://www.brazosbookstore.com/article/book-list/our-year-books-ben