Review: Big Ray by Michael Kimball

Published by Bloomsbury USA
Released September 4, 2012
192 pages
Where I got it: E-galley received from publisher via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★☆

Description (from Goodreads):

Big Ray’s temper and obesity define him. When Big Ray dies, his son feels mostly relief, dismissing his other emotions. Yet years later, the adult son must reckon with the outsized presence of his father’s memory. This stunning novel, narrated in more than five hundred brief entries, moves between past and present, between his father’s death and his life, between an abusive childhood and an adult understanding. Shot through with humor and insight that will resonate with anyone who has experienced a complicated parental relationship, Big Ray is a staggering family story—at once brutal and tender, sickening and beautiful.

I was astounded by the level of truth and emotion that are in every page of Big Ray. Told in small recollections following the death of his father, a man gives the story of their relationship and the kind of man his father was. There’s as much heavy meaning in what’s not said as in what is, but it all feels very naturalistic, as if you’re speaking to a friend who is feigning to casually tell you about his father’s death, but is truly working through the complex emotions of anger, relief, grief, and even love.

Make no mistake, Big Ray was a terrible man who did terrible things. He was physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive to his family. He was mean. He was uneducated, and ate to the degree that he grew to be over 500 lbs. The narrator questions what it was that killed his father: diabetes, sleep apnea, clogged arteries, heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure…the list goes on. But health problems like these are to be expected when you are that obese. Big Ray was larger than life, literally and figuratively. Now that he’s gone, his son is stuck with the mixed emotions of missing his father, feeling guilty that he didn’t immediately know he had died, anger at all his dad had done over the years, and ultimately the relief of having him out of his life.

The first lines of the book reminded me of Camus’s famous first lines to The Stranger, but there are deep, powerful emotions at work in this book, and as much as our narrator would like to present himself as possessing stoicism, he is no Meursault. Big Ray will be very difficult for some to read, and there is some very explicit content, so sensitive readers should be warned. I think this book will especially affect anybody who has ever wished for their parents to be dead, but not really, who ever both feared and loved somebody in their life, and anybody who knows that families are not ideal entities but complex and often painful.

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4 Responses to Review: Big Ray by Michael Kimball

  1. This one sounds very emotional and powerful. I’m not sure this one would be for me.

  2. Big Ray will be difficult to read? I found the REVIEW difficult to read. There’s something horrifying about people who let them grow to such an extent. :(

    I could not read this book.

    Also, you read strange things. :-p I feel like you give love to the books the rest of us have neglected.

    • Audrey Audrey says:

      It’s like what Winona Ryder’s character says on Beetlejuice, “I myself am strange and unusual.” I love books that are able to keep my interest and offer something new!

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