by Mel Bosworth
Folded Word Press, 2011
ISBN-10 1610191013, 226 pp., $14.00
While we never learn the narrator's name in Mel Bosworth's shining new novel, introductions seem beside the point. He has the kind of voice that puts me at ease. Within a few pages, I can see his kind eyes and honest smile, sense a shy, slightly squirrely disposition. Part of this, don't-I-know-you familiarity is due to the friendly rhythm of his speech; how his thoughts drift the way my thoughts drift, as if no one were listening in. However, the main reason I feel so comfortable with him, without even knowing his name, is that through his voice there sings a clear and amiable heart.
At its core, Freight seeks to conjure a flesh-and-blood character based solely on speech and pattern of thought. Certainly, things happen in this novel, heavy things, things that weigh the narrator down, he speaks of sickness and death, car rides and drinking, love and consumption. Yet, the real action, the real bloodline that pumps through these pages, is observing how his thoughts untangle each knot. It's in his verbal tics, what he repeats and forgets, subconsciously censors.
Rather than present a clear understanding of the situation in front of him, our narrator grapples with his own narration right in front of our eyes—the literary equivalent of a director leaving in camera shakes to show his shaky hands. Not only is this fluid uncertainty authentic and relatable, it is incredibly revealing: with each nuance, we learn a little more about what makes our narrator tick, in what direction his thoughts flow, and, more intriguingly, what they flow away from.
For what we also see in this passage is an acknowledgement of the past's intractable influence over the present. Memory is central to Freight; the ways in which memory haunts its narrator represents the novel's primary conflict. "When we remember something we forget, it can be a good thing," he says, in his charming, shoulder shrug tone, "But when we remember something we don't want to remember, it's like a vacuum. And by that I mean it sucks. Bad."
Episodes from the narrator's past reappear in emotive, heartbreaking detail. Sometimes, he seems to have control over these memories. Other times, they come pouring out, completely beyond his control. He recalls lost friends, lost pets, lost weekends, lost lovers. He ruminates on an anxious year as a counselor at a juvenile detention center, and time spent as an assistant at a nursing home, confronting death daily, struggling to console the bereaved and those whose minds have come undone. At the same time, he fondly recalls the beautiful embrace of summer, lovely nights filled with laughter. He remembers awkward interactions with automated ticket terminals and absurd moments of levity working menial labor.
In other words, Bosworth refuses to present a one-dimensional, doomed version of existence. His understanding is far subtler than that, more elegant. What you'll notice when you pick up Freight is that its structure is loosely based around R. A. Montgomery's Choose Your Own Adventure series. Passages are connected via gray sidebars on either side of the text, with page numbers linking certain parts of the story to other parts of the story. The idea is that you can read this book in multiple ways, in many directions. And yes, this is true. Yet, the design, as inventive as it may be, speaks more as a symbol than a narrative device. It suggests that linearity is an inadequate explanation for life. It says that the past is constantly reappearing in the present, affecting the present in both good ways and in bad, and that either outcome is mostly beyond our control. Despite its death-rattled ruminations, Freight is not a death-obsessed novel. It is a life-obsessed novel, a celebration of the stuff that fills up our lives and inevitably sinks us:
All we can do is keep carrying the weight, make room for more.—M. Thompson