(Tin House, 2011)
In the final installment of Jim Krusoe’s trilogy about life and death, the protagonist, Bob, reupholsters furniture, bakes cakes, fights with his neighbor, and attempts to communicate with the dead through a helmet made of egg cartons. Well, egg cartons and a microphone.
In Toward You, Bob narrates a story about love, grief, a meddlesome cop, and an irascible arsonist in the town of St. Nils where the dead linger in half-heard howls and the smell of roses. Somehow, by what seems to be complete coincidence, Bob finds himself in the middle of it all, trying to woo a grieving mother and calm a crazed and threatening man haunted by his dead dog.
It is through coincidence that Krusoe binds his characters and propels the story, and while this is certainly not the most novel form of advancing plot, he succeeds here by not allowing coincidence to function solely as a means of interconnection or summation. Instead, happenstance functions in a truly unsettling way that supersedes device or contrivance, and becomes its own character within the story. A chance encounter in Toward You is eerie evidence of design, not of the author’s, but of the strange hand of fate, destiny, or just bad luck, which pervades the town of St. Nils.
Krusoe accomplishes the feat of making the unreal real through equal parts horror and humor. His prose is casual and often understated, and his descriptions lean toward the quirky. Bob is described as “a perfect capybara,” and Howard Bonano, a consummate conman and Bob’s one-time mentor, “had a shock of dark black hair, except for one white lock that erupted straight above his left eye and swept back over his skull like a plastic grocery bag pasted by the wind to the fender of a speeding car.”
Despite Bob’s efforts to quiet the noise of life with his egg carton helmet and communicate with the dead, the living won’t leave him alone. In much the same way, as absurd and surreal as Toward You may be, every page hums with true emotion and genuine humanity.