Friday, November 27, 2015

Review: "Know Your Beholder" by Adam Rapp

Adam Rapp’s new novel, Know Your Beholder, is a brutally sincere portrait of a broken man, very carefully, trying to put the pieces of his life back together. The results are heartbreaking at times, funny as hell at others, but it comes together in a story that is eye-opening and life affirming, to use a very saccharine turn of phrase. Rapp’s Francis Falbo, one of the many oddly named characters in this book, is someone most of us, no matter what race or gender, can identify with as well as sympathize with as more facts about his life are uncovered. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a book that I read earlier this year, the underrated 60’s novel The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant, about a similar character taking a similar path in life that unexpectedly leads to enlighten and some form of redemption. But unlike Moonbloom, Falbo is not a Christ like figure who is the savior and protector of all of his tenants. He is very much like his tenants in that he is fragile and at the end of his rope, and wants what most of his tenants want, which is a helping hand and a true connection with someone else. At the beginning of this book, we learn a few details about Francis’ life before his own winter of discontent in the small town of Pollard, Illinois. He is still reeling from the divorce from his wife, Sheila Anne, who left him for another man, the breakup of his band, The Third Policeman, and the death of his much loved mother. He has reacted to this poorly, becoming agoraphobic, which he hides with phony claims of back pain, growing an unkempt beard and staying in the clothes he wears for weeks at a time. He rents out his childhood home to a variety of tenants. There is Baylor Phebe, the portly older gentleman who is trying his hand at acting who becomes one of Francis’ best friends, the artist, Harriet, who is working on a complex art project that requires nude black male models and Francis, the Bunches, former circus performers whose missing daughter is the driving force behind Francis’ need to change, and the distant Bob Blubaugh, who is taking up residence in Francis’ basement. Others enter Francis’ home as well, like Manserd, the detective who is investigating the disappearance of the Bunch’s daughter, who treats Francis like something of an idiot, Glose, one of Francis’ former band mates, who lies to Baylor and Francis, eats his food and gives him a bed bugs and finally Emily, Baylor’s daughter, recovering from her own romantic betrayal who becomes a mirror to Francis’ suffering and one of the most likely people to help him truly recover. The book has some harrowing moments as well, like what Francis eventually has to do to get rid of his friend Glose and a climactic tornado that rips through Pollard near the end, but this book is a rather quietly engaging story of a life in pieces and the strength and courage it takes to try and put them back together.

Rating: 5/5

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