As the reviews for Ways of Leaving begin to accumulate, I’ve noticed a trend. People either love the book or hate it, with very little middle ground. And so far, at least, the difference appears to be directly related to what the opposing factions believe the book is about. Those who hate it either acknowledge that they don’t have a clue what it’s about, or believe it’s about a drunken guy trying to get laid and generally being nasty. Those who love it see far more beneath the surface, reflecting, not surprisingly, the book I believe I wrote: a book about a desperately lonely man who’s alienated from everyone including himself; a man whose motivations are not particularly obscure and whose impulses and actions are, at least in part, a response to his sense of isolation and the feeling of insignificance that’s stalked him since childhood; a man who is searching, like many of us, for a connection, a sense of purpose.
Does the protagonist drink too much? Why, yes, he most assuredly does.
Does he use sex to mask his pain? Without a doubt.
Can he be cruel and sarcastic? You betcha.
Does he act out and behave badly? Of course he does. He’s as human as you or me.
Is there a comforting, magical solution leading to a perfect ending with all the loose ends tied in a perfect symmetrical bow? Certainly not. This is not a Hallmark Movie.
Some might reasonably argue that it’s the writer’s job to connect with the reader, and that when that connection doesn’t occur, it’s because the work is flawed, which means that the writer has failed. My belief is that there will always be those who cannot or will not get past the surface—particularly if the surface is covered with wrinkles and warts and, perhaps, a few shards of broken mirror—those who don’t want to expend the energy required, or simply aren’t equipped to appreciate books that fall outside the mainstream, that demand a little more, that take risks with language or form, books that reveal unapologetically and without facile reassurances aspects of the human condition some would prefer to ignore or deny.
I know Ways of Leaving isn’t perfect; after all, it is a book written by a human being, by me, for gawd’s sake. And perhaps it’s not quite as wonderful as the positive reviews suggest, but I would rather have written a novel that deeply affects those willing to make the effort to understand it, than a book everyone can understand, but that, like the faint emanation of a passing butterfly’s wings, barely glances those few it touches at all.