Spill Simmer Falter Wither

Spill Simmer Falter Wither

by Sara Baume

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Overview

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

A debut novel already praised as "unbearably poignant and beautifully told" (Eimear McBride) this captivating story follows — over the course of four seasons — a misfit man who adopts a misfit dog.

It is springtime, and two outcasts — a man ignored, even shunned by his village, and the one-eyed dog he takes into his quiet, tightly shuttered life — find each other, by accident or fate, and forge an unlikely connection. As their friendship grows, their small, seaside town suddenly takes note of them, falsely perceiving menace where there is only mishap; the unlikely duo must take to the road. 
 
Gorgeously written in poetic and mesmerizing prose, Spill Simmer Falter Wither has already garnered wild support in its native Ireland, where the Irish Times pointed to Baume’s “astonishing power with language” and praised it as “a novel bursting with brio, braggadocio and bite.” It is also a moving depiction of how — over the four seasons echoed in the title — a relationship between fellow damaged creatures can bring them both comfort. One of those rare stories that utterly, completely imagines its way into a life most of us would never see, it transforms us not only in our understanding of the world, but also of ourselves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544954618
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 03/14/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 236,317
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.78(d)

About the Author

Sara Baume studied fine art before earning a Master’s in Creative Writing. Her short fiction has appeared in the The MothThe Stinging Fly, the Irish Independent, and others. She won the 2014 Davy Byrnes Short Story Award and the 2015 Hennessy New Irish Writing Award. She lives in Cork with her two dogs.

Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE
 
He is running, running, running.
   And it’s like no kind of running he’s ever run before. He’s the surge that burst the dam and he’s pouring down the hillslope, channelling through the grass to the width of his widest part. He’s tripping into hoof-rucks. He’s slapping groundsel stems down dead. Dandelions and chickweed, nettles and dock.
   This time, there’s no chance for sniff and scavenge and scoff. There are no steel bars to end his lap, no chain to jerk at the limit of its extension, no bellowing to trick and bully him back. This time, he’s further than he’s ever seen before, past every marker along the horizon line, every hump and spork he learned by heart.
   It’s the season of digging out. It’s a day of soft rain. There’s wind enough to tilt the slimmer trunks off kilter and drizzle enough to twist the long hairs on his back to a mop of damp curls. There’s blood enough to gush into his beard and spatter his front paws as they rise and plunge. And there’s a hot, wet thing bouncing against his neck. It’s the size of a snailshell and it makes a dim squelch each time it strikes. It’s attached to some gristly tether dangling from some leaked part of himself, but he cannot make out the what nor the where of it.
   Were he to stop, were he to examine the hillslope and hoof-rucks and groundsel and dandelions and chickweed and nettles and dock, he’d see how the breadth of his sight span has been reduced by half and shunted to his right side, how the left is pitch black until he swivels his head. But he doesn’t stop, and notices only the cumbersome blades, the spears of rain, the upheaval of tiny insects and the blood spilling down the wrong side of his coat, the outer when it ought to be the inner.
   He is running, running, running. And there’s no course or current to deter him. There’s no impulse from the root of his brain to the roof of his skull which says other than RUN.
   He is One Eye now.
   He is on his way.
 
SPILL
 
You find me on a Tuesday, on my Tuesday trip to town.
   You’re Sellotaped to the inside pane of the jumble shop window. A photograph of your mangled face and underneath an appeal for a COMPASSIONATE & TOLERANT OWNER. A PERSON WITHOUT OTHER PETS & WITHOUT CHILDREN UNDER FOUR. The notice shares street-facing space with a sheepskin overcoat, a rubberwood tambourine, a stuffed wigeon and a calligraphy set. The overcoat’s sagged and the tambourine’s punctured. The wigeon’s trickling sawdust and the calligraphy set’s likely to be missing inks or nibs or paper, almost certainly the instruction leaflet. There’s something sad about the jumble shop, but I like it. I like how it’s a tiny refuge of imperfection. I always stop to gawp at the window display and it always makes me feel a little less horrible, less strange. But I’ve never noticed the notices before. There are several, each with a few lines of text beneath a hazy photograph. Altogether they form a hotchpotch of pleading eyes, foreheads worried into furry folds, tails frozen to a hopeful wag. The sentences underneath use words like NEUTERED, VACCINATED, MICROCHIPPED, CRATE-TRAINED. Every wet nose in the window is alleged to be searching for its FOREVER HOME.
   I’m on my way to purchase a box-load of incandescent bulbs because I can’t bear the dimness of the energy savers, how they hesitate at first and then build to a parasitic humming so soft it hoaxes me into thinking some part of my inner ear has cracked, or some vital vessel of my frontal lobe. I stop and fold my hands and examine the fire-spitting dragon painted onto the tambourine’s stretched skin and the wigeon’s bright feet bolted to a hunk of ornamental cedar, its wings pinioned to a flightless expansion. And I wonder if the calligraphy set is missing its instruction leaflet.
   You’re Sellotaped to the bottommost corner. Your photograph is the least distinct and your face is the most grisly. I have to bend down to inspect you and as I move, the shadows shift with my bending body and blank out the glass of the jumble shop window, and I see myself instead. I see my head sticking out of your back like a bizarre excrescence. I see my own mangled face peering dolefully from the black.
 
 
The shelter is a forty-minute drive and three short, fat cigarettes from home. It occupies a strip of land along the invisible line at which factories and housing estates give way to forests and fields. There are rooftops on one side, treetops on the other. Concrete underfoot and chainlink fencing all around, its PVC-coated diamonds rattling with the anxious quivers of creatures MISTREATED, ABANDONED, ABUSED. Adjacent to the diamonds, there’s a flat-headed building with unsound walls and a cavity block wedged under each corner. A signpost rises from the cement. RECEPTION, it says, REPORT ON ARRIVAL.
   I’m not the kind of person who is able to do things. I don’t feel very good about climbing the steps and pushing the door, but I don’t feel very good about disobeying instructions either. My right hand finds my left hand and they hold each other. Now I step up and they knock as one. The door falls open. Inside there’s a woman sitting behind a large screen between two filing cabinets. There’s something brittle about her. She seems small in proportion to the screen, but it isn’t that. It’s in the way the veins of each temple rise through her skin; it’s in the way her eyelids are the colour of a climaxing bruise.
   ‘Which one?’ she says and shows me a sheet of miniature photographs. As I place the tip of my index finger against the tip of your miniaturised nose, she ever-so-slightly smiles. I sign a form and pay a donation. The brittle woman speaks into a walkie-talkie and now there’s a kennel keeper waiting outside the flat-headed office. I hadn’t imagined it might be so uncomplicated as this.
   He’s a triangular man. Loafy shoulders tapering into flagpole legs, the silhouette of a root vegetable. He’s carrying a collar and leash. He swings them at his side and talks loudly as he guides me through the shelter. ‘That cur’s for the injection I said, soon’s I saw him, and wouldn’cha know, straight off he sinks his chompers into a friendly fella’s cheek and won’t let go. That fella, there.’
   The kennel keeper points to a copper-coated cocker spaniel in a cage with a baby blanket and a burger-shaped squeak toy. The spaniel looks up as we pass and I see a pair of pink punctures in the droop of his muzzle. ‘Vicious little bugger. Had to prise his jaws loose and got myself bit in the process. Won’t be learning his way out of a nature like that. Another day, y’know, and he’d a been put down.’
   I nod, even though the kennel keeper isn’t looking at me. I picture him at home in a house where all of the pot plants belong to his wife and the front garden’s been tarmacked into an enormous driveway. His walls are magnolia and his kitchen cupboards are stocked with special toasting bread and he uses the bread not only for toasting, but for everything. ‘Any good for ratting?’ I say.
   ‘Good little ratter alright,’ the kennel keeper says, ‘there he is, there,’ and now I see he is pointing at you.
   You’re all on your own in a solitary confinement kennel beside the recycling bins. There’s a stench of old meat, of hundreds and hundreds of desiccated globules stuck to the inside of carelessly rinsed cans. There’s dust and sweet wrappers and cardboard cups whirling in from the whoomph of traffic passing on the road. There’s the sound of yipping and whinging from around the corner and out of sight. It’s a sad place, and you are smaller than I expected.
   You growl as the kennel keeper grabs you by the scruff and buckles the collar, but you don’t snap. And when you walk, there’s no violence, no malice in the way you move. There’s nothing of the pariah I expected. You are leaning low, nearly dragging your body along the ground, as though carrying a great lump of fear.
   ‘Easy now,’ the kennel keeper tells you. ‘Easy.’

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Spill Simmer Falter Wither 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was coming off a boring book, started reading this & thought, good, an interesting book. Little did I know it would take a dark turn towards the end. I like it for it's imagination, but I don't like the ending. My heart is still aching for the both of them.
seayomama More than 1 year ago
This novel defies genre, and if you read it, I defy you to ever forget it. Thank you to Net Galley and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the DRC. I received an advance copy free in exchange for a fair review, and I can tell you, this one’s a keeper. Our protagonist, who tells the whole story start to finish without any other significant characters apart from his memory of them, is “…not the kind of person who is able to do things.” He lives independently in a coastal village in England, subsisting on government aid, the rent paid by the tenants in the building his father left him, and the money he has tucked away, bit by bit, over the course of his fifty-seven years. There is black mold in his house, and plenty of grit and grime, but he is left alone and can fend for himself, eating from cans and frying sausages. His greatest fear is of children, because he was bullied as a child and is certain—correctly, perhaps—that if children were to see him now, they’d do the same. His loneliness is so intense that he has purchased picture frames and kept the inset photos of the models used to sell the frames. There they are in his living room, these strangers under glass. Faces to look at. On one of his quiet trips to the neighborhood thrift store, he sees a sign offering a free dog; it’s to go to a home without small children or other pets. He thinks to himself that a terrier might help with his rat problem. As soon as he arrives, he hears the disparaging way the shelter employee refers to this dog, which would be put to sleep the following day if not adopted; the employee seems to think this might not be a bad plan, since the “little bugger” had nipped him. Our lonely man peeks in at the matted fur, the “maggot nose”, the missing eye, and he realizes he has found a kindred spirit. The language with which the story is told reminds me of James Joyce in its luminous quality and word play, but is more accessible than Joyce, and friendlier toward its reader. Animal stories, which this partly is, are often overly sentimental, but the violins don’t wail at us here. It’s the story of One Eye, but it is also the story of our lonely man, whose history gradually unfolds as the story is told. I cannot help but think that were this protagonist real, and were he in the USA instead of the UK, he would likely either be in prison or homeless. I read a great deal, and the truth is, now that I am the same age as our protagonist, I forget more of the DRC’s I read than I remember. A few months after I’ve read them, most are a bit foggy. A year later, I may have to check my records to be sure I have even read this book or that one. But perhaps a dozen or so each year stand out in bold relief, stories that will make me tell friends and family, “Ohhh, you have to read that one!” This is one of those. I would qualify my recommendation to say that because of some of the terrible things that happen in our protagonist’s history, I would not offer this title to your precocious young reader without first reading it yourself. Also, of course, this might not prove a good choice to those that for personal or religious reasons, simply detest dogs. Apart from these narrow confines, I recommend this book wholeheartedly to one and all. It’s absolutely matchless.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written story of a man and his dog over the course of a year and the four seasons. The man rescues the dog and in doing so finds a soulmate and someone to love for the first time in his 57 years. A story that will stay with you long after the last page is turned!
Leila_Smith More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written; Disturbing to its core, especially disturbing that so young an author understands so deeply social isolation, loneliness and despair. From Sara Baume's Prologue: "He is running, running, running. And there’s no course or current to deter him. There’s no impulse from the root of his brain to the roof of his skull which says other than RUN. He is One Eye now. He is on his way." She is telling us about the rat terrier One Eye, the inexorable rush to destiny applies to the 57-year-old motherless child who casts his lot with One Eye. Ray needed a rat terrier. He found One Eye but only after a badger found the dog first. Why he needed the terrier is a complex question. He had rats, to be sure. Why he had rats is for the reader to discover. One Eye had no one. Ray had no one. Then they had each other. "I summoned every last dot of valour I could scratch from my soul, I swallowed a shot glass of rescue remedy and went to the social welfare office. I filled out forms and ticked boxes. I found that continued survival came down to a simple matter of form-filling, a basic proficiency in the ticking of boxes. And because I managed never to miss a box or make an illiterate mark on the bottommost line instead of signing my name, nobody came. And here I am still, and here you are." "My father’s name was the same word as for the small insectivorous passerine birds found most commonly photographed on Christmas cards, with orange-red blushed breasts as though they’ve been water boarded by molten amber and stained for life." Our narrator is never explicitly named, but he is Ray. He speaks to One Eye (and sometimes, seemingly to us) and interacts only with the clerks at the post office and the grocers. He shows One Eye (and thereby us) the circumscribed world in which he lives. And I use "circumscribed" advisedly. He starts and ends his life in a small Irish village, with limited financial resources and no social support. He exhausted his savings account and could have collected rent, but that task, like so many others, seemed too overwhelming. "For two years now, the hairdresser hasn’t paid a snip of rent, I’ve only just realised that. She used to post it through the letterbox on the first working day of every month in an envelope that smelled like sweet glue and hand cream. But for the last two years, not a snip. And why would she bother, when the landlord’s disappeared and there’s only his idiot son who won’t notice anyway? And I didn’t notice, did I? So maybe I’m everybody’s idiot after all." Baume peels away each prickly leaf of the whin, painfully, one at a time, as she reveals Ray's secrets. She also gives us a survey of the flora and fauna of the Irish sea coast - Bowerbirds, chamomile, furze, cuckoos, silverweed, nasturtiums, jackdaws and all manner of living things, flaunting their living as Ray tries to hang on. The alliteration abounds: the "grandiosity of grottos." The multitude of Marys meets us around the bend. We smell what Ray smells: black mold, cigarette smoke, old slippers and, Baume tells us, time. Irony abounds. The ever-present radio tells Ray and One Eye about endangered species. Irish fatalism prevails. This is a remarkable book, not only for the gorgeous language which others have noted, but also for the unmistakably Irish fatalism and folk wisdom contained therein. "Tomorrow, once our slanted slates have collided with the course of the sun, we’ll come back here, I promise."
Leopold_Spike More than 1 year ago
This is not a happy book, unless you find joy in stunningly beautiful writing. For a short time, we live within the protagonist, an individual, living his unique life, as we all do. It is a sad and lonely life, but wonderfully rendered. Reading this book is an experience, one I will never forget. Another customer reviewer was confused by the ending. I also found it ambiguous at first reading, however, when I reread the last few pages several days later, it was as clear and beautifully detailed as the rest of the book.
Luckygranadma More than 1 year ago
Dear Seamomama I need help, I didnot get the ending, can you help me, please
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The writer certainly has a gift, but I did not like the story.