A Howl for Mayflower by Dan Gilmore – Review

 

61666293Humorous, and darkly honest, Dan Gilmore’s bittersweet fiction tracks ordinary people coping with life’s curve balls. Who would choose loneliness? or painful self-recognition of Alzheimer’s? or the magnetic pull towards suicide? or the limited prospects of pregnancy at seventeen? Thrown together by circumstances, the four main characters in Howl for Mayflower face difficult choices at The Coronado Apartments in a shabby Tucson neighbourhood in Arizona.

See post at reading with Dan Gilmore

Lonely and demoralized, protagonist Tobias Seltzer philosophizes: Ordinariness is a great social force. Its power to leach vitality from the human soul is at least equal to the black plague.

Tobias’ decisive early steps out of ordinariness begin with a decision to find a low-risk male friend without having to change much about himself:

At the Cornonado, I decided there were three male candidates – the Hindu upstairs, Bennie what-his-ananda, who triggered in me a mild case of xenophobia; Randall Pruitt from down the hall, who had tried to shoot himself through the head after returning from Vietnam and succeeded only in turning himself into a harmless moron; and a man named Howard Gardener, who had recently moved into the late Abigail Kaufman’s apartment across the hall – Abigail, who died in her bathtub and soaked for a week before anyone smelled her.

But it is Tobias’ relationship with his quirky neighbour, Mayflower, a passionate woman desperate to experience life again before Alzheimer’s takes it away from her. She awakens Tobias to the unexplored potential of his early life. By caring for another, and by fighting for what is right, Tobias emerges from the mundane.

Thrown into this emergence is a 17-year old belligerent and pregnant girl, Naomi. Tobias champions her and Mayflower. He does not give up on the two women whom it would be easier to shut out of his life by losing himself in the books he loves. By participating in their lives he suffers bumps and bruises along the way.

Gilmore (who I met in Tucson in January 2011 when he was guest author at Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat), through his books of poetry and prose, relishes writing quirky with an edge. His blunt view of truth resonates with readers, even when we squirm. He captures the characters’ dysfunctions and their attempts to recover.

Tobias Seltzer character:
I had never been a touchy person. I didn’t know what to do when someone hugged me. I felt repelled, almost painfully so, and at the same time wanted more of it.

Next evening I discovered that, once started, ending relationships was about as easy as kissing your elbow.

I willed myself to let go and run, but something in me was enraged. I wanted to do harm to this wasted piece of humanity.

I didn’t like myself. My life was falling apart. My experiment with relationships had been a bust. I wanted my old life back, the life of the contemplative scholar.

Mayflower character:
I thought I was the most desirable woman alive. Charles spent the whole evening cracking his knuckles. Afterwards, I insisted we go somewhere to dance. He had absolutely no sense of rhythm.

Obsessively organized men almost never have a sense of rhythm.

We need people who have answers even if they’re pretenders. Otherwise, we’d all go mad.

That’s what we have flesh for, dear, to keep us from breaking our bones when we love each other.

Naomi character:
It’s boring here. This place is dark and smells like Lysol. It’s like being dead or something. Don’t you get bored?

You know that minister I told you about? It never happened. I seduced him. Seducing someone that fat and that holy was easy. I liked seeing him swear he’d never see me again, the come begging like a worm. I like making people hate me. I like it that you hate me.

Some day, I’ll see the ocean. I’ll own a car, have long fingernails and paint them purple. I’ll use buckets of mascara and wear those hight platform sandals. I want to be young. I don’t think I’ve ever been young. I’m never going to get married or have another baby.

And then there is sassy Mrs. Choy, a Chinese coffee shop owner, and handsome Caravelo, the one-armed juggler, and Randall Pruitt, an unlikely hero. The book is fast-paced and loaded with believable dialogue interspersed with Tobias’ reflections that at times hold him back and at other times propel him forward.

If there is one disappointment, it is the handling of the character Howard late in the book. Once his purpose to the story is over, Harold disappears on his own life quest. I feel the unfinished business of character development in that decision.

I enjoyed this book.

Published by Imago Press

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