Learning from Poor Milo | Review of “Milosz” by Cordelia Strube (2012) Coach House Books

Milosz

The works of Cordelia Strube have been the topic of many discussions these past weeks since my review of her latest work On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light (Link to that review) Many of those discussion have spark personal reflections and considerations to the human condition – ponderings about family members, friends, lovers, neighbours, etc. – which is a attribute of a good piece of literature.  And for those people who enjoyed that book will certainly gain the same insights with her book Milosz.

Page 7-8

The banging stops at two a.m. Milo lifts the pillow off his head but still can’t sleep and considers going next door to ensure that no one has been hurt. They can seem so comfortable, the three of them, in the backyard flipping burgers, tossing the ball for the dog. Sometimes Milo sits in darkness, undetected, on his side of the yard, and looks in their windows. Tanis and Christopher often share a bottle of wine at the kitchen table, conversing easily. Milo envies their intimacy, their shared troubles, their abnormal son. When he moved back in after his father disappeared, he could hear them making love. It sounded as though they were trying to save each other from drowning.  Not anymore. Now the only noise coming through the was is the TV. Or screams.

The beauty of this book is (again) Strube has a protagonist who has profound insights into the world yet is stuck with mundane people around them. We witness Milo’s acting career stuck in neutral. His girlfriend has dumped him. His father has disappeared.  And a collection of freeloaders have taken over lodging in his house. Yet the only person that poor Milo can truly relate to – an autistic eleven-year-old boy who lives next door – is being bullied, Milo jumps into action to try to improve at least one life. And the consequences spiral out of control.

Page 122-123

‘Do you know this man?’ the bodybuilder (cop) asks Tanis.

‘He’s my neighbour.’

‘We found him with your son.’

I found him.’ Milo interjects. ‘Actually he found me.’

‘Shut up,’ the wrestler (cop) says.

‘He built some kind of wigwam with your son last night and slept in it.’

Tanis, who has been looking and acting like a madwoman, opens and closes her mouth several times. Already she has further alienated the police by accusing them of mistreating her son. ‘Get away from him,’ she kept yelling at them. Milo had to restrain Robertson while she strapped on the protective helmet. They can hear him thumping as they stand in the front hall.

Tanis looks at Milo with eyes completely unfamiliar to him. “You knew where he was?”

‘Not until the early hours of this morning,’ Milo explains. ‘He didn’t want to come back and I didn’t want to force him. I mean, it was dark. We could have gotten lost.

‘So how long were you planning to stay in the wigwam?’ the bodybuilder inquires.

‘Hopefully not long. I was hoping he’d get hungry and I could interest him in some pancakes or something.’

Tanis sits and stares at nothing. ‘Why didn’t he want to come home?’

‘He didn’t want to go to school.’ Milo says, which is easier than explaining that the pressure to be normal has overwhelmed Robertson.

‘Well, ma’am, if you’re satisfied that your son’s safe, we’ll be on our way.’

‘What do you mean “safe”? He’s never safe.’ She starts getting loud again. ‘He’s bullied in the schoolyard every single day. What kind of sick world allows a boy to be bullied every single day? What kind of sick, perverted world?’ Both cops edge towards the door.

‘So you want no charges laid?’ the bodybuilder asks.

‘Charges?’

‘Against your neighbour here.’

‘For what?’

‘He kept the boy in the wigwam, ma’am.’

‘It was a debris shelter,’ Milo interjects.

‘Get out,’ Tanis orders.

Milo and the cops look at each other because they’re not sure whom she’s talking to.

‘All of you. Get out. Now.’ She starts swinging her crutch. The cops hurry out but Milo lingers. The wrestler reaches back for him. ‘You too, asshole.’

While there is a noble desire that moves Milo into action, the results are strongly bittersweet. Milo is pushed into doing something and he then fumbles around the muddled results. Yes, it is funny at times but there is almost something enlightening about considering his actions.

Page 154

When he was small Milo found solace in his collections of marbles, matchbooks, condiment packets, stir sticks, plastic cutlery, mini soaps and shampoos. All went into shoeboxes under his bed that Mrs. Cauldershot had to remove when vacuuming. ‘What in God’s name have you got in those boxes?’

‘Treasure,’ he replied. The boxes were carefully bound with elastic bands. He knew Mrs. C. didn’t have the patience to open them. When he was supposed to be sleeping he’d take out his flashlight and examine his acquisitions, wishing he could share them with the baby he imagined would have grown into an adoring little brother. His mother assured Milo that he didn’t kill the baby, that it was already dead when he flushed and that she left it in the toilet because she wanted the doctor to see it. Milo hadn’t looked in the bowl, only noticed the curled-up, watery and bloody fetus swirling around after he’d pressed the lever and his mother shrieked, ‘Don’t flush!’

From then on, when he heard his mother making terrible sounds in the bathroom, he held his teddy bears against his ears. Once he peed himself rather than look in the toilet. He only went into the bathroom in the morning after his father had shaved.

Pushing open the door to Gus’s house, he longs for shoeboxes full of treasure.

Cordelia Strube has given readers not only empathy but a means of discussion with her protagonist in her novel Milosz. It is a wonderful piece of literature.

*****

Link to Coach House Books website for Milosz

Link to Cordelia Strube’s website

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