Apparently some readers are tired of listening to Kevin Canty write about alcoholics and other failures, but not me. I have read and will continue to read anything from Canty because he’s an adult who writes of the impossibility of being an adult, of the need to let go, give up, fuck up, sometimes fatally. His characters drink and/or take drugs to help them through lunch, through the horror of five o’clock and all those ghastly hours until nightly oblivion. His characters also fall in love frequently, fast, and hard.
The new novel, Winslow in Love, is that same old thing, a grownup who can’t clean up his act. I felt so at home. I couldn’t put the book down. Canty captures the giving way so well, the speeding through the rotary in the rain on the borrowed motorcycle and realizing you can’t hold the line because you’re afraid to hold the line and that’s why you drop the bike, bang it and yourself up. No, Canty’s Winslow didn’t do that, I did. Before today, I don’t think I’ve ever admitted to anyone except myself that the failure was will, not skill, and my relief at crashing felt immense and pleasurable. I was playing too hard, exhausting myself with possibilities. I needed a hard stop, like a wet curb, and the consequences didn’t matter, or I chose to believe that. What’s amazing is that Canty draws such scenes as ironic arabesques right up to the real-life stop, the place where irony collapses into trauma and electric shock treatments, unemployment and divorce, straight chair and cheap whiskey in the unfurnished apartment.
Canty surprised me with this novel. At the end, I talked back to him, chastised him for tomfoolery, but my objections didn’t survive thinking them through. He knows what he’s doing, knows the amplitude of irony and hope, the humor of a Hallmark card. If you’re a functional adult, skip this book.