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Black Gum Paperback – March 17, 2015
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Despite all of this, I found myself wishing for something more. Osborne’s talent as a writer is so apparent, but feels underutilized. I couldn’t help feeling that I’ve read this story before. “Depressed guy is depressed,” a cynical reader might say. “Numb guy is bored, makes bad choices.” If you aren’t taken in by the style, you probably won’t be taken in at all. Genius shines through during the final pages, when Osborne embraces some weird imagery, laying out hallucinatory metaphors that are so out there I wasn’t sure of their meaning (but I was okay with it). With this finale, I felt I had been shown something new and unique, something only this writer could show. It packed an odd emotional punch, bringing home the lowness of this world while simultaneously losing me in the strangeness. It is bold, provocative, and poignant. I only wish there was more to connect with in this way throughout.
Still, this is a writer worth watching, and a book worth reading.
Anyway if you dig this, check out the rest of the Broken River Books catalogue. They’ve got a bunch of stuff with similar sensibilities. Oh, and really, really excellent cover art across the board.
The story is told in a series of short chapters featuring a mix of humor, hopelessness, and sentimentality. You feel lost with the narrator, wondering where he is going and, at the same time, wondering if he deserves his current life. In one chapter, he's having lunch with his mother, trying to keep his emotions at bay. In the next, he's doing drugs and getting into fights. It makes for an unpredictable read. You want to root for him, but in some cases, you're not sure if you should.
J David Osborne is also an editor, a fact that is evident in his work. His sentences are sparse and to the point. There is no fluff here. Removing a single sentence would disrupt the flow. He writes just enough to outline the picture. It's up to you to add the color.
The one factor that really moves the story is the dialogue. Osborne has an ear for it. Everything is delivered in a very natural way, even when the conversations deviate into "weird" territory.
My only gripe was the situation with his wife. I kept waiting for some final confrontation, some kind of reveal as to why they became so distant and if there was ever a chance of them resolving their problems. Even so, the constant distance and refusal to deal is actually a realistic approach. It stems from a lack of communication, which is often a major factor in destroying marriages. I just hoped for a more satisfying ending to that particular relationship seeing as it was the catalyst for his downward spiral.
***END OF SPOILERS***
I think Black Gum's most noticeable attribute is that it's a departure from Osborne's usual work. It feels more personal, and I think it shows his growth as a writer.
J David Osborne is definitely creating a world of his own, and it's a world I plan to revisit in the future.