Big Ray: A Novel

( 2 )

Overview

Big Ray's temper and obesity define him. When Big Ray dies, his son feels mostly relief, dismissing his other emotions. Yet years later, the adult son must reckon with the outsized presence of his father's memory. This stunning novel, narrated in more than five hundred brief entries, moves between past and present, between his father's death and his life, between an abusive childhood and an adult understanding. Shot through with humor and insight that will resonate with anyone who has experienced a complicated ...

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Big Ray: A Novel

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Overview

Big Ray's temper and obesity define him. When Big Ray dies, his son feels mostly relief, dismissing his other emotions. Yet years later, the adult son must reckon with the outsized presence of his father's memory. This stunning novel, narrated in more than five hundred brief entries, moves between past and present, between his father's death and his life, between an abusive childhood and an adult understanding. Shot through with humor and insight that will resonate with anyone who has experienced a complicated parental relationship, Big Ray is a staggering family story-at once brutal and tender, sickening and beautiful.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kimball’s novel starts with death, but what’s really sad is the life the dead man—Big Ray, the narrator’s father—lived. Unhappy child of unhappy parents, Ray becomes an abuser who eats himself to 500 pounds. His wife gone, children grown, Ray’s body is found only when his apartment manager comes looking for the rent; as his son says, “I’m glad my father didn’t die at the beginning of the month. I don’t know how long it would have been before somebody found him.” This stark depiction of the wages of isolation is typical of the book, which Kimball (Us) tells in 500 brief snippets that refuse to add sentiment or excuse to the difficult facts the narrator feels compelled to relate. Facts is a funny word here, as is compelled—but the book reads like a memoir, the entirely believable product of a son grappling with the death and life of his father. The narrator talks frankly of his estrangement and efforts to connect, the abuse he suffered and his mixed feelings; the obituary, he notes, listed those who preceded Ray in death and those who survived him. “I’m one of the people who survived,” says Big Ray’s son. Kimball shows the truth of this, but also its sad, shifting complexity. Agent: Phyllis Westberg, Harold Ober Associates. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"[An] astonishingly moving novel... We're left gasping for air... Danny's emotions unfold as slowly as the carefully dispensed facts of the story, and to mesmerizing effect... Big Ray is an appalling tale told with anger, dark humor and surprising tenderness." Alec Solomita, Wall Street Journal

 “In this tender, gorgeous novel, Michael Kimball explores how we try to understand even the most difficult family members.”—Leigh Newman, Oprah.com

"[Big Ray is] a great character... He's dead at the start of the novel, and it's impossible not to wish him deader... Mr. Kimball is not one to flinch, and this portrayal is the better for it." Susannah Meadows, New York Times

This plainspoken novel about a man coming to terms with his abusive father’s death sneaks up on you—and is unlike anything else you’ve read.”—Dawn Raffel, Reader’s Digest

“[Big Ray] reads like a memoir, the entirely believable product of a son grappling with the death and life of his father. The narrator talks frankly of his estrangement and efforts to connect, the abuse he suffered and his mixed feelings; the obituary, he notes, listed those who preceded Ray in death and those who survived him. ‘I’m one of the people who survived,’ says Big Ray’s son. Kimball shows the truth of this, but also its sad, shifting complexity.”—Publishers Weekly

“This slim novel, told in a series of short entries, packs the emotional charge of a lifetime.”—Heather Paulson, Booklist

“Surpassing the simply grotesque, Kimball's story takes on something of a redemptive, Job-like intensity…. Kimball's short, bleak novel may not tell a pretty story, but it is a well-told story that is not easy to forget.”—Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness 

"The search here is for understanding... The writing is elegantly straightforward." - Robert E. Brown, Library Journal

BIG RAY’s power is unquestionable; its ability to draw out gut-wrenching emotions by way of plainspoken observations is the ace up its sleeve.”—Ian F. King, KGB Bar Lit Magazine

“Michael Kimball has been writing innovative, compelling and beautifully felt books for years, but Big Ray seems a break-through and culmination all at once. It's funny and terrifying and it's his masterpiece, at least so far.”—Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask

 “An uncompromising work of power and grace. I finished reading it a week ago, but I still can't put it down.”—Jon McGregor, author of This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You

“Elegy, meditation, story, final reckoning—whatever you want to call it, Big Ray is mesmerizing. Sorrowful and honest, the kind of book that compels, not compromises.”—Deb Olin Unferth , author of Revolution

“Big Ray is disturbing in the most extraordinary ways, and in the end extraordinarily touching also. There’s nothing quite like it I’ve ever read till now (though there were times I thought the ghost of Barry Hannah was whispering in my ear.) It’s amazing.”—Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls’ Rising

Library Journal
Big Ray is known for two things: meanness and obesity. His story and that of his son, Harry, who narrates, advances through asterisk-separated paragraphic bursts—snapshots, so to speak (sometimes literally, as some of the entries are meditations on old photos). As in Kimball's earlier Us, the search here is for understanding. Harry wants to find out what made his abusive, antisocial father tick and why he hates Ray while also seeking his respect and approval. The writing is elegantly straightforward, maybe to a fault, because while the book has both humor and emotionally charged episodes, it comes across as rather clinical and dispassionate. Ray is not presented as a stereotypical "mean fat guy" but shows a few virtues; we're left in the same position (putatively) as Harry—that is, wanting to hate Ray more than we do. Really, with Ray, there's not too much to understand, but Harry does come to some understanding of himself and carries the reader along with him. VERDICT For readers of literary fiction, as well as works focusing on dysfunctional families, who value thought and analysis over emotion.—Robert E. Brown, Oswego, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781620400678
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 6/18/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 970,513
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Kimball is the author of The Way the Family Got Away, Dear Everybody, and, most recently, Us, and his novels have been translated into a dozen languages. His work has been featured on NPR's All Things Considered and in the Guardian, Vice, Bomb, and New York Tyrant. He is also responsible for the project Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) and a couple of documentary films. He lives in Baltimore. Visit his website at http://michael-kimball.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Big Ray

A Novel
By Michael Kimball

Bloomsbury

Copyright © 2012 Michael Kimball
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60819-854-2


Chapter One

My father probably died on January 28, 2005, but I wouldn't know he was dead until a few days later when my sister called to tell me. My father lived alone and nobody else knew he was already dead either.

* * *

January 29, 2005, would have been my mother and father's forty-fifth wedding anniversary—if my father hadn't died the day before, if my mother hadn't divorced him ten years before that.

* * *

I turned thirty-eight years old on February 1, 2005, but my father didn't call me to wish me a happy birthday, which was odd because my father called me nearly every day. I realized he hadn't called for the few days before my birthday either, which was also odd, but I thought my father was probably just waiting to call me on my birthday. It wasn't until the next day, February 2, that I realized my father hadn't called me because he was dead.

* * *

The next evening, I walked into the house and I heard somebody talking. It was my sister leaving a message on the answering machine. I thought she was probably calling me to wish me a happy birthday, but her voice didn't sound right, and I couldn't understand what she was saying. I picked the telephone up and started saying my sister's name. I repeated it until I got her attention. I knew there was something wrong and I was letting her know I was there.

* * *

I couldn't get my sister to tell me what was wrong. She was crying and I couldn't get her to stop. She was sobbing and then she started saying my name. She was repeating my name. She was getting ready to say something difficult. My sister caught her breath. She told me our father was dead.

* * *

I don't remember what I said back. I just remember how hot my face felt. The skin on my cheeks and my forehead suddenly felt wet. I felt like I was running a fever. I felt like I had gotten very sick very fast and I was going to throw up. My chin started to shake and my eyelids fluttered. My eyes couldn't focus. I remember looking around the room like I didn't know where I was anymore. Maybe my eyes were looking for my father even though my brain knew I was never going to see him again.

* * *

The rest of that telephone call is difficult to remember. I think I might have said, No—as if I was disagreeing with my sister, as if I could have brought my father back to life just by denying he died. Or I might have said, Oh no—as if it was some kind of accident that could be fixed and didn't really concern me. The more I think about it, the more I think I said, Oh no—which seems so stupid now, so inadequate. I'm sure my father would have been disappointed with my response, if he had known what it was. My father was disappointed with so many things about me.

* * *

I remember how I wanted to hang up the telephone. I wanted my sister to call back and say something else. I wanted her to sing happy birthday to me.

* * *

I asked my sister what happened and she said she didn't know. She told me she had spoken with the police and the coroner's office. She would call me back when she knew more.

* * *

I hung up the telephone and I stood there looking at it on the wall of the kitchen. My wife had come into the kitchen and she was standing next to me. She must have known from the tone of my voice that something was wrong. She put her arms around me and we stood there in the kitchen holding on to each other and not saying anything.

* * *

I stared at the telephone on the wall. I waited for it to ring again.

* * *

It was a couple of hours before my sister called back. She told me she would go to the funeral home in the morning. She said there wasn't anything else to do until then. I remember how I just agreed with her. There wasn't anything anybody could do.

* * *

I went into the bedroom and lay down on the bed. My wife followed me and lay down beside me. My father was dead and it felt like the whole world had changed. My wife held on to me and I lay in bed with a pillow over my face. It was all I could do right then.

* * *

After I found out my father had died, I cried so much that first night my face got puffy, my eyes prickly and dried out. I felt wired with grief and I couldn't sleep. It was physically exhausting to have a dead father.

* * *

My father's obituary lists February 2, 2005, as the official date of death even though that's just the day my father was found dead. The obituary also notes that my father was a member of the Waverly School Board and that he enjoyed playing cards, hunting, and fishing. It is sad. Those are the most notable things about my father that could be written in an obituary.

The obituary then lists the family that preceded my father in death and the family that survived my father. I'm one of the people who survived.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Big Ray by Michael Kimball Copyright © 2012 by Michael Kimball. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2013

    I read Big Ray in two sittings. thoroughly enjoyed it. somehow

    I read Big Ray in two sittings. thoroughly enjoyed it. somehow I couldn't help thinking this more a true
    story than a novel. BUT WHAT ARE THESE OTHER TWO REVIEWS THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH BIG RAY AND ARE FILTHY TO PUT IT NICELY?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2013

    Ummm

    Way too confusing......and the door is locked...how did the other teachers get in? No offense but terribly written. Too short...to much details crammed in.....too short. Infact it deserves negativw amount of stars but sadly it cant do that. Try something better story writer

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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