Nephew, an imprint of Mud Luscious Press
67 pgs. | $10
Rarely does a book capture what it means to be perfect—or as close to perfect as possible—simply because there are so many variables at play. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether or not the book is long or short, whether it is an epic or a chapbook. Length is all but arbitrary in this context because it takes an incredible amount of skill to hold it all together, to give the reader the impression the book might actually burst at the spine, or that the words might careen off the pages like a train derailed. It’s this sense of imminent catastrophe that ignites a glowing ember to raging inferno, which then stokes the fires in the boiler that propels the work forward.
It wasn’t then any surprise at all that xTx has written just such a book, the latest from the fantastic Mud Luscious imprint, Nephew: Billie the Bull.
“He stares. The word, ‘carnage’ would be too kind, he thinks.”
There is certainly carnage in this book—glorious, tragic, beautiful, and devastating carnage. You will ache. You will seethe. You will writhe and revel. You will feel rage, and empathy. You will feel tenderness and heartache.
You will feel.
There’s just so much that happens in 63 pages that demands you to immediately turn the book over and read through it again. And again.
Things happen here that will move you. You will be given what you need—nothing more and nothing less.
“The reclusive moment takes its attention back and the finger in his hair is gone. He retreats and folds again, hurting with truth.”
The reader is shown reality, is given the purest kind of truth through a fictional telling of a woman approximately the size of “a smallish telephone pole,” of “2.28 average-sized stop signs,” or of “6.73 standard-sized garbage cans laid end-to-end.”
Billie suffers because she is large. Rather, she suffers because she is massive.
She suffers for her son. She suffers for her loss. She suffers because she is different.
“You’ll never be small,” [her father tells her.]
Billie suffers, mercilessly.
She bears a burden—the burden—of being herself and of the blame that comes with being who she is. Some would say of being what she is. Out of her control, everything seems to be, everything is; Billie is vulnerable, unable to effect a change in her the attitude of her persecutors. Alone, the burden is hers to carry of one and all…
“…Bloodbath. Tore up.
Broke, like shattered. A tornado. Wrecked.
My cow. Holes in her hide.
A limp. A sickness.
Corn gone. Gone. Rows. Her. It.
Well dry. Dust. I’m telling you.
Cradle barren. Her. Cursed, I say.
The poorhouse. No clothes. Vacant. It’s her.
The plague. The black of the sun.
An angry mob. Instigator.
An evil. That’s it. That she is.
A scar. Grotesque…”
The mob comes. The mob comes and does what it does, though for that heartbreak, you’ll have to read the book. The mob does what it does, yet is unable to do what it planned: the mob does not break Billie.
It does not kill her.
There is brutality on these pages, but from this brutality reveals a pure love of a mother for her son, born of a reckoning, rather than revenge. The Finderman and Collector take Billie’s son. In doing so, they unleash the Bull—
“There was a halting [in the park], prey not preying, but enough release that brought the terror she wanted. Needed. The bull, unafraid. She drank the fear from them, nourishing her loss…
WHERE IS MY SON?!
Her roar, a mother’s roar among the roar of mothers.”
Events unfold. The narrative moves forward. Billie’s plight never releases its grip on the reader, never loosens, even for a second.
Just as there was a first growing, a second and a third, there is a fourth growing. To place this in a meaningful context, you will need to read the book (but you will thank me for saying so). It is awesome, this fourth growing—awesome in the way two battling titans inspire awe; the way megaliths and superstructures create a sense of smallness in onlookers.
The book’s physical dimensions conceal its true bigness. Though slight in stature, inside the covers there beats the heart of a bull.
Joseph Michael Owens is the author of the ‘collectio[novella]’ Shenanigans! and has written for [PANK], The Rumpus, Specter, Grey Sparrow & others. He is the blog editor for both InDigest Magazine and The Lit Pub, but you can also find him online at http://categorythirteen.com. Joe lives in Omaha with three dogs and one wife.