Having just finished Will Allison's debut What You Have Left, I was left with a feeling of loss myself. A sliver of a novel, it went by all too quickly, and this adds to the thematic wallop of the story, as loss after loss plays its way through the consciousnesses of the well-wrought and reflective characters. I suppose, on the good foot, the brevity invites re-reading, but I think I'll wait a bit so as not to dillute the delicious feeling of regret left by the novel's first reading.
The regret palpable in the story is complicated by a sensitive series of portrayals of what it's like to love damaged and/or unavailable people--a feeling familiar to any potential reader (read: any human), at once accessible and wistfully distant. Mr. Allison knows his characters so well that even the most casual comment or gesture adds to the accretion of regret which locks together stories which take place over the span of almost forty years in South Carolina. While the characters are all members of the same family, more or less, it is the hurt and loss which binds them, not only to their own relatives, but more significantly, to the present paths which inspire their present behaviors. The characters are huge without overstatement, and the prose is so insightful as to hurt.
I'll be impatient, no doubt, waiting for Mr. Allison's second novel. As I finished the book, I was reminded of other debuts--McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City and Foer's Everything's Illuminated. The books are radically different in content, but they crackle with the clear precision and promise of the announcement of a major talent. While McInerney's debut seems dated now, I can't imagine Mr. Allison's will twenty or a hundred and twenty years from now. Do yourself a favor and read it; I'd bet in retrospect, you'll feel as if you were at the Kingdome on May 29th, 1995. Except Allison goes five for five.