My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Repairable Men starts out simply enough, a terse story of brotherly conflict and maturity and domestic discord and the things men inherit from their fathers. But in the last paragraph the whole world shifts, signaling what the book truly is: a resonant mythology of masculinity.
You wouldn’t think we needed more stories like this. Surely we have had plenty of men telling stories about men — about our efforts at heroism and our pathetic defeats, about how hard men have it even though we live in a world of men.
But, it turns out, we do need John Carr Walker’s stories. Because as hard and sometimes violent as these stories can be, Walker treats the characters with a gentle sympathy and humanity. The book has its share of abusive fathers and bumbling fuck-ups, but it also has fathers who are simultaneously sad in their clinging to old dreams but beautiful and heroic in their love for their sons. It has lost brothers returning to themselves and bringing order to the world. It has tenderness and confusion, and when it reveals that there aren’t any answers in the world — in spite of the title, very few of these characters are repairable — it offers you the comfort of knowing that you aren’t alone in that revelation.
My favorite stories in this book are the ones about fathers and sons. Some of them, like “The Atlas Show” or “Candelario” or “The Rules,” are overt, the father-son relationship central to the story. Others, like “Ain’t It Pretty” or “Brother Rhino,” are more oblique, glancing at the father or the son from the edges of some other story, but that relationship still defines — almost always in negative space — the world the characters inhabit. There’s something about the way Walker writes these stories that speaks to me, as though the author and I share some secret.
In the same way that nostalgia is both sickening and addictive, or that bittersweet combines opposites, Walker creates a terrific combination of unease and comfort in these stories, the two emotions always slipping past each other like two magnets of the same polarity, but doing so with that same invisible pressure. I always like to hold two opposing magnets together, to feel them push against each other with a force I can feel but can’t see or fully understand — and I like to press them together as hard as I can until they meet. That’s the sort of thing Walker accomplishes in all these stories but especially in the father-son stories: that invisible pressure, and the weird delight in pushing past the pressure.
Repairable Men is a powerful little book, and I eagerly await John Carr Walker’s next book.