We have all spend sleepless nights pondering what we have done in our lives. “What could we have become if opportunity X had only happened to us when we reached station Y.” We tossed and turned and looked ourselves in the mirror in the morning wondering if we still have time to do something with meaning or are we delusional in our dreams. That is the thought process Liam Card has his protagonist go through in his brilliant novel Exit Papers from Paradise.
You are a plumber, Isaac.
A plumber in Paradise. That is an oxymoron. No, that is an oxymoron on steroids and, of those steroids, most likely Winstrol-V. That oxymoron is not passing a urine test. That oxymoron rebuilds damaged cells faster and can train harder than other oxymorons. That oxymoron suffers from rampant acne, increased aggression, and testicular atropy. Still, no matter how often that oxymoron sticks a needle in its ass, it remains both a tragic and accurate description of my role and location on this planet.
But the dozens of online IQ tests I’ve completed tell me that I, in fact, am quite capable of handling a college-level, pre-med curriculum. My SAT score placed me in the ninetieth percentile. What kind of loser takes the SATs in his thirties? Pathetic. I am, apparently. I’m the loser who took them in his thirties. Proud and ready to secure my notch on the SAT measuring stick, I sat with two hundred seventeen-year-olds battling oily skin who couldn’t give a shit about their scores and who lacked the capacity to appreciate their opportunity. Unable to understand what it felt like to take the test at my age or what it felt like to be on the receiving end of their confused dirty looks.
More resentment to add to my toxic pile.
Card has tapped into a universal feeling with his character Isaac Sullivan. He is a 35 year-old plumber living the small town of Paradise, Michigan. While he was forced to take over the family business at the end of high school, Isaac never really gave up on his dream to attend medical school. He has read every textbook on medical science available to him and practises “surgery” on the wildlife around his house. But now Isaac has decided follow his heart and apply to school. He knows his decision will be unpopular with people around him but we learn through the narrative of the story, he doesn’t care what people think anymore.
“Here’s what you do, Isaac,” he says. My father wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his plaid shirt after uttering the preamble to some sage advice. Tiny pieces of food are still caught in his salt-and-pepper beard, post-wipe. Tell him. No let him finish his thought. Dad pauses then takes a long pull from his can of Miller High Life. Obviously, the advice hadn’t completely hatched, and he is now in the process of editing it as he chugs. One of his oldest tricks.
He enjoys Saturday brunch with me. I think he does. I love it which is crazy. I shouldn’t. And the man has to be sick of eating the same thing every weekend. Prepare something different for him then. Try an omelette, for Christ sake. No. It’s tough to screw up bacon, scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast, and the punishment of his complaints are not worth the culinary risk of preparing something new. At least change up the dessert. Why? Because apple boats are boring as all hell and should not constitute dessert.
The chugging has ceased.
Here comes the advice, which historically has been the parental equivalent of an oil spill. Give him the benefit of a doubt.
I’m all ears.
Small droplets of beer have decided to hang out with the crumbs in his beard. It’s all I can focus on. Reach across with your napkin and clean them off. No, he will tell me that I am acting like a woman. Focus, advice is coming. Look interested. There they hang, like tiny beads of water on a spider’s web after a light rain.
“You need to find yourself a woman, Isaac . . . who doesn’t piss you off too much,” he says. Wow. I wasn’t sure you could pull it off, but you have raised the bar with that gem, old man.
Card does an excellent job of having voices that are both intellectual and vernacular locked inside one man’s head. Readers are able to grasp the frustration of the man inside himself as he tries so hard to get through not only the day but to the next point of his life.
November is flying by, like a car through a town without a stoplight, and the tail end of the month brings the first noticeably chilly air of the season. The lazy Indian summer must have enjoyed itself too much in Paradise and had been setting record temperatures late into fall. However, Paradise is partial to winter, and it was only a matter of time before the eviction notice was posted on the door of the tepid Fahrenheits. That sounds like the name of a rock band – the Tepid Fahrenheits. I should start a band. You can’t sing Isaac, and you have more pressing issues at hand. Fine, but when I’m a practising doctor, I will round up other practising doctors, and we be a Guns n’ Roses cover band called the Tepid Fahrenheits.
Exit Papers from Paradise by Liam Card is an excellent book dealing with an element of the human condition. A must read for anybody who reads fiction and seeks to be enlightened. Hopefully not the last piece of work by this writer.