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Big Ray: A Novel Hardcover – September 4, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This slim novel, told in a series of short entries, packs the emotional charge of a lifetime. A son explores his fraught relationship with his obese father, who has recently died alone in his dingy apartment. Bouncing from one time period to another, the tale chronicles the father’s early life, his transition to adulthood, and his role as an abusive father and husband. At times the son is relieved that his father has died, but his relief is colored with empathy for a man whose difficult life and extreme weight inspire both pity and disgust. Kimball evokes these emotions with complexity and honesty, revealing in a backward glance the nuances present in any parent-child relationship. --Heather Paulson

Review

[An] astonishingly moving novel... We're left gasping for air... Danny's emotions unfold as slowly as the carefully dispensed facts of the story, and to mesmerizing effect... Big Ray is an appalling tale told with anger, dark humor and surprising tenderness. (Alec Solomita, Wall Street Journal)

In this tender, gorgeous novel, Michael Kimball explores how we try to understand even the most difficult family members. (Leigh Newman, Oprah.com)

[Big Ray is] a great character... He's dead at the start of the novel, and it's impossible not to wish him deader... Mr. Kimball is not one to flinch, and this portrayal is the better for it. (Susannah Meadows, New York Times)

This plainspoken novel about a man coming to terms with his abusive father's death sneaks up on you--and is unlike anything else you've read. (Dawn Raffel, Reader's Digest)

[Big Ray] reads like a memoir, the entirely believable product of a son grappling with the death and life of his father. The narrator talks frankly of his estrangement and efforts to connect, the abuse he suffered and his mixed feelings; the obituary, he notes, listed those who preceded Ray in death and those who survived him. 'I'm one of the people who survived,' says Big Ray's son. Kimball shows the truth of this, but also its sad, shifting complexity. (Publishers Weekly)

This slim novel, told in a series of short entries, packs the emotional charge of a lifetime. (Heather Paulson, Booklist)

Surpassing the simply grotesque, Kimball's story takes on something of a redemptive, Job-like intensity…. Kimball's short, bleak novel may not tell a pretty story, but it is a well-told story that is not easy to forget. (Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness)

The search here is for understanding... The writing is elegantly straightforward. (Robert E. Brown, Library Journal)

BIG RAY's power is unquestionable; its ability to draw out gut-wrenching emotions by way of plainspoken observations is the ace up its sleeve. (Ian F. King, KGB Bar Lit Magazine)

Michael Kimball has been writing innovative, compelling and beautifully felt books for years, but Big Ray seems a break-through and culmination all at once. It's funny and terrifying and it's his masterpiece, at least so far. (Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask)

An uncompromising work of power and grace. I finished reading it a week ago, but I still can't put it down. (Jon McGregor, author of This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You)

Elegy, meditation, story, final reckoning--whatever you want to call it, Big Ray is mesmerizing. Sorrowful and honest, the kind of book that compels, not compromises. (Deb Olin Unferth , author of Revolution)

Big Ray is disturbing in the most extraordinary ways, and in the end extraordinarily touching also. There's nothing quite like it I've ever read till now (though there were times I thought the ghost of Barry Hannah was whispering in my ear.) It's amazing. (Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls' Rising)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608198545
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608198542
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,308,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By D_shrink VINE VOICE on October 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A short novel of only 182pp that is both beautiful in its telling of a deeply personal story with a truth difficult to escape once you have read it. The chapters are short; the dialog is entrancing; and it rings true for how things might have been for this one person's family.

The story is told entirely in the first person by one Daniel Todd Carrier, the son of the Title character Big Ray, aka Ray Harold Carrier who primarily resided in the small community of Mason, MI but towards the end of his life also resided in Las Vegas.

To give you some idea of the simple but touching dialog I have quoted a few lines;
1. "My father looks like the kind of kid the teacher punished when she didn't know who blame for trouble." p22 reflecting on blame
2. "I think the memorabilia reminded him of being a teenager in the 1950's - when everything seemed possible, before so much went wrong for him." p72 - discussing a life when there was still hope
3. "In just a few hours, we had removed, thrown away, or given away nearly everything my father had accumulated during his lifetime." p74 - simply a sadness for things that mattered to one person and now no longer matter to anyone

Hats off to the author for a fine work of prose. It was emotional on many different levels. Highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Kulesa on September 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been a huge fan of Michael Kimball's work since The Way the Family Got Away. Michael's unique style always seems to serve the subjects he tackles extremely well. I think this book is his best yet. The complex and complicated relationship the POV character has with his deceased father is so brilliantly served by the simple, straightforward, heartfelt voice established here, it's hard not to read this as a memoir or a confession poured forth late at night in the corner of an empty bar, to a trusted friend. This is definitely the kind of book that makes you miss your train stop. And then it makes you want to call your Dad. I did both.

And, though you should never judge a book by it's cover, c'mon, is this an awesome cover or what?
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By pennydreadful on September 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I was astounded by the level of truth and emotion that are in every page of Big Ray. Told in small recollections following the death of his father, a man gives the story of their relationship and the kind of man his father was. There's as much heavy meaning in what's not said as in what is, but it all feels very naturalistic, as if you're speaking to a friend who is feigning to casually tell you about his father's death, but is truly working through the complex emotions of anger, relief, grief, and even love.

Make no mistake, Big Ray was a terrible man who did terrible things. He was physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive to his family. He was mean. He was uneducated, and ate to the degree that he grew to be over 500 lbs. The narrator questions what it was that killed his father: diabetes, sleep apnea, clogged arteries, heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure...the list goes on. But health problems like these are to be expected when you are that obese. Big Ray was larger than life, literally and figuratively. Now that he's gone, his son is stuck with the mixed emotions of missing his father, feeling guilty that he didn't immediately know he had died, anger at all his dad had done over the years, and ultimately the relief of having him out of his life.

The first lines of the book reminded me of Camus's famous first lines to The Stranger, but there are deep, powerful emotions at work in this book, and as much as our narrator would like to present himself as possessing stoicism, he is no Meursault. Big Ray will be very difficult for some to read, and there is some very explicit content, so sensitive readers should be warned. I think this book will especially affect anybody who has ever wished for their parents to be dead, but not really, who ever both feared and loved somebody in their life, and anybody who knows that families are not ideal entities but complex and often painful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By LilyBook on October 22, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This novel is sad, bittersweet, empathetic. It gives you a glimpse into the life of a morbidly obese person albeit from a fictional third-person point of view. You read that life is hard, disappointing, and cruel but sometimes a person can overcome their circumstances. Sad lives are all around us. This book describes one of them without bitterness.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have to admit, it was the title and cover with the oversized sunken chair that first attracted me to this book. I hadn't read any reviews prior to beginning this short novel (fewer than 200 pages), and had no idea what to expect.

The story is told through a series of short entries, by Daniel Todd Carrier, the 38 year-old son of Big Ray, now deceased. Big Ray and Daniel's mother were divorced years earlier, and Big Ray, who toppled the scale at 550 lbs, died alone in his small apartment. His body was found by his landlord who went to collect the rent at the beginning of the month.

From each entry it is easy to see that Daniel is struggling over his father's death and the fact that he died alone. Each entry adds a piece to the puzzle about the man Big Ray was. A crude and difficult husband and father, Big Ray grew up poor and as an adult took his anger out on his family and others. Bitter and angry, he basically ate himself to death as a result of health complications from his morbid obesity.

The entries also shed light on the kind of man Daniel was: sensitive and kind in contrast to his bigger in life "bully" of a father, the man that Daniel was, deep down, embarrassed to call "dad". All his life he longed for his father to show some sign of love, but that just never happened. Some of the entries are disturbing, very sad and difficult to read. Although this was a work of fiction, it felt more like a memoir, and a theraputic effort written by someone trying to move beyond grief.

3.5/5 stars
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