- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Brook Street Press; First Edition edition (January 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0972429557
- ISBN-13: 978-0972429559
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.8 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,530,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Weight of Nothing Hardcover – January, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Two men who've lost everything to violence and neglect struggle to redeem their lives in Gillis's uneven second novel (after Walter Falls). Niles Kelly and Bailey Finne, both bright students in the fictional university town of Renton, have a great deal in common. Both are cursed with overbearing fathers—a bullying tycoon and an alcoholic laborer, respectively—and mothers who are absent or who died young. They've lost their girlfriends as well, Bailey to indifference and Niles to a mysterious terrorist bombing that also killed his father. They share a tendency to hurt themselves, too. Niles sleepwalks, but with a dangerous twist: while somnambulant, he stabs himself with a corkscrew and scrapes at his flesh with a metal file. Bailey, on the other hand, self-destructs while awake: an art historian and piano prodigy, he scoffs at finishing his dissertation and sabotages an important audition. Bailey and Niles join forces, figuratively and literally: Bailey drills a hole between their apartments and ties them together at the wrists to control Niles's nighttime movements. Despite their tragedies, Bailey and Niles are not particularly sympathetic characters; saddled with self-pity, they endlessly discuss their problems while doing little to address them. Once they take action, decamping to Algeria in search of the terrorist who killed Niles's father and girlfriend, the novel comes to life, and readers who persevere will enjoy the improbable but beguilingly mystical conclusion.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Author
All author proceeds from the sales of this hardcover edition go to 826 Michigan, an educational nonprofit organization in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan.
Top customer reviews
The two central characters are connected by an act of violence when the office building that Niles father works in is blown up by Bailey's brother in a terrorist bombing. Niles not only loses his tycoon father, but also the love of his life who was on her way to confront his father. A strange sympathy develops between Niles and Bailey. Bailey tries to save Niles from the somnambulant masochism that Niles tells Bailey he's developed, and Niles tries to keep Bailey from losing Elizabeth, a pianist who has lost her arm.
I love Elizabeth--she is the first real challenge to Bailey's self-protective philosophies. "You're all gusto and wild performance," she tells him after hearing him play piano. Her bluntness is offset by how deeply she cares for Bailey, evidenced not only by many of the things she says but also by her willingness to put up with Bailey's emotional stagnation. Bailey's determination to "want for nothing" eventually sends Elizabeth away though. While in general Gillis complicates issues very satisfyingly, it is clear that the philosophies and attitudes Bailey has cultivated to protect himself are the very things that will hurt him the most in the end, if he cannot overcome them.
Bailey and Niles are both deeply wounded characters, who cannot stop wounding themselves. They creatively, endlessly, try to work through their problems. Both have lost their girlfriends, and both have overbearing fathers (who Gillis manages to paint huge in only a few brushstrokes). In the end, they travel to Algiers for what proves to be a life-altering--and for one of them, life-ending--journey.
I found myself not only enjoying TWON for its plot and characters, but also for the philosophical questions which were explored throughout the book. The author developed certain themes and questions over the course of the novel which I poured over after reading it. Besides those themes in bold on the inside cover (Memory Regret Revenge Forgiveness) there were several passages about time that I loved--some related to memory, "There's no order to memory after all, is there? I mean, once something happens, it's there in your head with all the rest," and others about the weight of time and its effects. In the end an unusual therapy is used on Bailey to undo this weight, and after this Bailey reestablishes contact with Elizabeth. As with all of the rest of the book, this attempt to reach out to Elizabeth is strange, compelling and beautiful.
Bailey Finne is a talented musician who doesn't fully develop or use his talent. What he does is become a professional student of Art History and makes excuses to the PhD. Committee about why his dissertation hasn't been completed. His problems revolve around the death of his mother, and his father's inability to move on after her death, as well as a troubled love life.
Niles Kelly was born to a wealthy man via a surrogate mother that he had no contact with following his birth. Niles rejects his wealth but is haunted by the violent deaths of his father and his lover.
Bailey and Niles travel together to Algiers to confront the ghosts of their past, hoping that the journey will help them excise those ghosts.
The Weight of Nothing is well-written and a deeply moving piece. Gillis' prose is compelling as he weaves the characters through the labyrinth of life.
Steven Gillis quietly set the literary cognoscenti on alert with the publication of his first novel WALTER FALLS last year. As always the question arises when a `first novel' suggests a talent of depth: Is there more? With the writing of THE WEIGHT OF NOTHING Gillis proves that his prelude, no matter how accomplished that was, served as only as intimation of the talent of this new American writer of substance. Gillis is that rare breed of writer who understands how to grasp the reader's attention, secure a train of thought in content and technique, assuring that once the written journey has begun, the only choice is to hold on with mind and emotion to the anticipated conclusion.
THE WEIGHT OF NOTHING intertwines the lives of several young people in quest of the answer to the universal question of `Who Am I?' in a way that avoids the predictable and in essence incorporates their ephemeral acts with paired explorations in philosophy, art, music, religion, and global socioeconomic problems. In short, this is a story of two men whose early lives were set in motion by traumatic confrontations with loss and the aimlessness that accompanies that unleashed spectre.
Bailey Finne is a gifted natural musician, Secretly learning piano from his musical mother until she is lost to him in childhood in a freak death that pushed his alcoholic father further away from his two sons (Bailey's older brother Tyler responds to this death by fleeing into a life crime, the military, and eventually terrorism). Descrying his father's flaccid, empty life, Bailey embraces music, being able to play all manner of music by ear but settling for entertaining folks in a bar rather than pursuing a career in classical music. He eventually becomes an art history major in college and blithely approaches his dissertation on an obtuse recluse of an artist (L.C. Timbal) with the same glib attitude that has become his life signature. He has girlfriends who try to encourage his gifts, but none more significantly than Elizabeth, a music major/pianist/composer who lost her right arm in a vicious dog attack. Bailey's obsession with her after she leaves him because of this immature, slothful attitude towards things she considers important propels Bailey on his journey to discover what is meaningful in life. "It's the conflict between what ends and our need to continue that causes trauma."
Niles Kelley is the only son of a megalomaniac capitalist who unsuccessfully attempts to mold Niles into a template of his design, seeing no value at all in Niles' preoccupation with literature and philosophy - especially his `hero' the nihilist Camus - nor his relationship with Jeana, a free spirit who encourages Niles' dreams and sees the evil in the capitalistic empiricism of Niles' father. In a auspicious moment of time Niles loses Jeana as she enters the building where Niles' father controls industry: the building is exploded with terrorist bombs placed there by one Tyler Finne and his roommate, the Muslim Oz, a lad who loathes American capitalism and has grown disenchanted with his own father's superficial use of religion to camouflage his own power brand of capitalism. The result of this tragic loss of his beloved Jeana and the collapse of his father's influence drives Niles into a state of self-mutilation, an illness for which he seeks the advice of a Muslim philosopher/healer who encourages Niles to go to Algiers to better understand the writings of Camus and find healing for his malady and his need for forgiveness for Jeana's useless death and his father's `part' in that calamity. In Algiers he hoped to find "the surrounding silence Camus wrote of as weaving together the hopes and despairs of human life."
Bailey and Niles, fellow students at a university, grow close at the funeral for Jeana and eventually accompany each other to Algiers, Niles to seek forgiveness and healing through Camus, and Bailey to finally focus his diasporic creative mind on finding the elusive painter Timbal - the subject of his long avoided dissertation. Bailey tends to Niles' somnambulistic wanderings and self-mutilations while Niles encourages Bailey's efforts to bring closure to his fragmented life. As Bailey discovers Timbal and confronts his own vacuous artistic and spiritual life, Niles wanders the desert and encounters Aziz, a man who assists him in finding the perpetrator of Jeana's death and Niles' life ends in a way that brings him into the ring of closure of his author hero Camus wrote in A Happy Death. Devastated, Bailey returns home, begins therapy with Emmitt who slowly helps Bailey become grounded into finding peace through a long series of self-imposed deprivations meant to clear the slate of his life and allow him a starting point afresh - "to achieve a point of nothingness and return to a natural state of being." "The idea that examining our past will lead us to a clearer understanding of ourselves, and in turn a more constructive life, is egocentric....Self-knowledge is unreliable at best and at times a danger. The emphasis should be not on remembering but forgetting and returning to a point where no wounds exist."
Steven Gillis draws such exquisite characters that each becomes wholly believable, even at their obtuse edges. The story is told in a series of explanations introduced very slyly by a page or two of what we eventually realize are on-going therapy sessions with Emmitt for Bailey and Massinissa Alilouche for Niles. But the real wonder of Gillis' writing stems from his obviously profound depth of knowledge about art (here is a fine synopsis of the works of Bacon, Gorky, Diebenkorn, the abstract Expressionists, etc), of music ( Bailey's turning point in his break with Elizabeth is his ability to play an Etude by the obscure composer Nikolai Roslavets (1881-1944), a Russian composer who did exist and married the styles of Debussy with Scriabin and Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich with his own Messiaen-like sense of atonality), of the very current schism between American imperialism and the view of the Muslims we are now breathing, of the great literature of the 20th Century, of terrorism, and of world politics. He writes poetically about the smells and vistas of Algiers in a way that would suggest that he has lived there extensively. At the same time he is able to make wry tongue-in-cheek diversions by naming the buildings that housed the fathers of Bailey and Niles "Ryse and Fawl" and "Reedum and Wepe"! It is this sophisticated mixture of parody, metaphor, depth of factual material from disparate fields of knowledge, and impressive sense of structural detail that makes his fascinatingly unique and timely story and characters burst off the page. Steven Gillis enters the ranks of the important writers and thinkers of the 21st Century. With THE WEIGHT OF NOTHING he assures us his future is solid.