Writing About Loss, The Pugilist at Rest

June 16, 2018

There are some things that are simply dreadful.  


There are events that are universally painful for almost everyone who has ever dwelled on earth.  To be sure at the top of said list would be the loss of a family member or dear friend.  Such occurrences are irreversible and eternal.  This is why the pain is near to unending.  There is also the loss of love.   Heartbreak songs have helped pay the rent for many a songwriter.  Such events are what is part of life.  

If writing is hard, and it is most certainly, putting into words in a real and tangible fashion how a person feels when they experience loss requires an exacting  use of an expanded vocabulary.  At such a moment a high quality education would come in handy.  Myself I have thought, "Gosh if I was only F. Scott Fitzgerald or better yet Maxwell Perkins."  The reality is that I nor a vast number of Americans have such a high quality education.  Because after the fatigue, and strain, and the rolling over in bed with the pillow over your head coupled with a groan from the core of your being, how exactly does one describe how such a loss feels?

Let be back up.  How does one describe how such a loss feels in such a real and universal fashion that it is no longer a tale about your personal misery but a share or help for the reader as you have so acutely, with success, put into words just what they were feeling at such a time in their lives.  Howto create a situation when a writer has expressed a universal or a shared experience over time and space and paper?  

In the mid 1990s I was given a copy of Thom Jones's The Pugilist at Rest.  Unlike any other well written book I had ever read, not knowing how else to handle the situation, I hid the book in the bottom of a trunk so no one else could see it or read it.  I did not give it to a friend.  I did not even donate it to charity.  Such was his ability to describe pain and loss, and at times the fear of pain and loss, in such an exacting fashion. It was/is a work without filters.  Of the Pugilist one review reads, "Thom Jones's magnificent collection of stories presents a brutal and authentic vision of the human condition, in a world without mercy or redemption."

To that I say, "yep, just what they said."

For me, with my vastly inferior public school education, I liken the experience of loss like that of  stepping off of the train in the predawn hours of the morning when you are the only one getting off at a station.  There is no boatman, no coins, no gloom, nor ill will.  There is just your conductor, a yellow metal step stool and a heavy pile of luggage.   The baggage man  hands over your luggage with both the giver and the taker understanding  that there is an obligation for it to be carried forever while at the same time not dropping the other packages already in hand.




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