Literature is a great way of understanding how different people live. There are people in the fringes of society; desperate, hurting, anxious, that are marginalized for many reasons. So how did they end up they way they did? What do they do with there time? What are their inner thoughts and emotions? These and much more deeper explorations are brilliantly documented in Andrew F. Sullivan’s book All We Want Is Everything.
Page 16-17 Good King
The ambulance that took Big Red to the hospital decided to stop at every red light along the way. He stared at the four metal prongs glowing like alien bones in his flesh. The same yellow-fingered doctor from the night before asked him how did this and was he the same one who made him eat all those vitamins last night? This was a Christmas when Children’s Aid asked Big Red a series of questions in the hospital bed while his mother stood outside the room, running her hand through the doctor’s hair, ignoring the missing molar, the yellow fingers and the high pitched laugh because she had a mortgage three months in arrears. A wide lady with too much makeup quizzed Big red about his father and about his school and about the time his grandfather left him at a Tim Horton’s in Sault Ste. Marie after a fishing trip and his mother had called the police.
A Christmas when Big Red forgot his Ghostbusters in a snow bank and his father got arrested for the third time in as many years. The following June his Dad would plead out to institutional observation for a period of no less than three months. Around the same week Dwayne “Pearl” Washington would finally receive his release from the Miami Heat after fifty-four games, never to play in the NBA again. This was a Christmas when Big Red finally got his report card from Mrs. Vanderlooten. He had been answering all the math questions with drawings of animals – a lot of ducks and pandas. She said she was concerned, very concerned with his performance. This was a Christmas when Big Red realized “concerned’ didn’t mean much at all as a nurse eased the fork out of his hand.
Sullivan here has written a slice of reality of our society here that everybody claims to know about yet nobody has truly considered. He vividly describes scenes of desperation, of lost hopes, and even the rise of apathy that is so apparent in many peoples lives today. There is a sense of sense of something deep and personal with each exploration in each of the stories yet the characters seem to be almost detached, alone and apathetic to their status in life. There is some well-thought out and crafted lines in these stories even if the words are simple and concise.
Page 22-23 Crows Eat Well
Toby and I walk toward the fields. The sun is directly above us. There are no shadows following us out here. I kick at the gopher holes and try to avoid ants swarming around my feet.
“So they let him go, eh? And he didn’t even bring a boyfriend.”
Dad’s teeth are bright yellow. He’s got a cigarette tucked in one corner of his mouth, but it doesn’t seem to obstruct his words. There’s a red ball cap on his head covered in salt rings. Toby starts plucking at ears of dead corn, dropping kernels onto the ground. On closer inspection, all the plants in here are just like the sunflowers. Something in the soil has accelerated all this growth; everything is overripe and slowly bursting.
“You know you could have called me first, son. And Toby, I don’t wanna hear nothing about your Mom. She can deal with that mess on her own. I didn’t even say much to the papers anyway. It’ll all blow over eventually. She still sends me black cards on Valentine’s.”
“You’re like children,” I start to say. “Like the world is a sandbox or some shit to you.”
I can feel sweat running down my spine. I remember Dad in the courtroom, explaining how much the ‘dozer was worth, how it was totalled. Detailing my past substance abuse issues, as he called them, my learning problems as a child and my mother’s overprotective nature. I heard him yelling at Kali outside the courtroom, mocking the way her voice slurred in stressful moments. He asked if she charged men by the hour. I was convicted of attempted robbery and resisting arrest. The bulldozer was a dangerous weapon.
Sullivan’s language is frank and bold, but it works in describing the realities he explores in each of the stories. There is no sugar-coating personalities or ‘happy-ever-after’ endings to his stories here. Blunt, up-front situations and lives are documented here.
Page 60 God Is A Place
Caleb’s hands are red in the cold and he worries they will draw out wandering eyes. They are glowing and he can barely feel them. The baby is quiet; maybe it is freezing too. The cold is not an enemy. It is a warm embrace that articulates each breath you take. Caleb stops to lean against a tree to whisper something about St. Peter choking on a stone. All your idols are crumbling, he warns the baby and the baby cries because it knows Caleb is right and so Caleb says you weren’t born from me. And the baby cries again.
Caleb fell off the top shelf of the pasta aisle at the grocery store a year ago. Twink was working cash and she took him to the hospital and field the workman’s comp and got them both kicked out of her Mom’s place once the baby bump could not be hidden anymore. She said it was Caleb’s, but Caleb can’t remember getting hard, not after his knee blew out so he says okay, but it really isn’t okay. He remembers another boy and another bottle and not drinking. He doesn’t want the new apartment with the ducts and pipes filtering fluids and air through their bedroom, the stove rattling every time the bus stops in front of the house. He doesn’t want the feet shuffling above him or the loud screams of raccoons mating in the attic. Fighting, mating, all the same things; all flesh on flesh and the baby is just flesh, that’s it.
All We Want Is Everything by Andrew F. Sullivan is a great exploration of lives being lived on the edges of our society. The language is bold and frank yet memorable. In short, it is a great piece of literature and Sullivan is a writer who is well worth reading.