2012 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist – The Matter With Morris – David Bergen

Welcome to the world of Morris Schutt, journalist (well I’d call him a columnist but he refers to himself as a journalist and who am I to argue?) Morris is a man who has recently been informed that his only son has been killed in Afghanistan, a man whose writing talent is now being called into question.

Although recently I have read numerous novels that deal with the horrors of war, and a number dealing with America’s post 11 September fear and even more questioning the validity of being involved in Iraq or Afghanistan, this is no ordinary war lament. It is the story of a grieving man whose life seems to fall apart as a result of those events. His wife looks like she’s leaving, one of his daughters is having an affair with her University professor, the other won’t talk to him nor let him see his grandchild and his support group is full of shallow men. Is Morris also going through a mid-life crisis?
I believe the acknowledgments give away the style you’d be facing if you tackled this book:
I have begged and borrowed from many writers; Plato, Cicero, Petrarch, Dante, Shakespeare, Soren Kierkegaard, Jacob Boehme, Theodor Adorno, Paul Tillich, Leo Strauss, Rienhold Niebuhr, Allan Bloom, Terry Eagleton, and finally and most avidly, Saul Bellow.
This novel has an interesting opening where Morris points out that as a journalist “he knew a fine line existed between truth and fiction and he felt he was adept at walking that tightrope.” Then the novel becomes so gripping and holds up a cracked mirror to our current civilisation that you, as a reader, begin to blur those same lines between truth and fiction. Masterful….
“I was standing in the meat line at De Luca’s and the woman in front of me gets on the phone and asks her husband what kind of cheese they want, Reggiano or Padano. She can’t even make a simple decision. The cellphone has become a soother, an umbilical cord, a clattering intrusion. If we’re texting or talking, we think we’re alive.”
A novel that deals primarily with Morris’ grief but does so in such a way that the reviews on the back cover talk more about the impact of war on families, or darkness, flawed searching characters etc the simple fact of a father losing his only son in warfare can sometimes be lost in all the other noise of the daily grind.
Only Morris can care for Morris. Enough of this complaining, sighing, lamenting, and suffering. I have been, in the words of Socrates, envious, faithless, unjust, friendless, impious, a vessel of every vice, and on and on. And in conclusion, a tyrant. By scribbling my thoughts down and then sending them through the mail, I am most self-absorbed and self-centred. I want an audience, and I will have one; I have a place waiting for me on YouTube and Wikipedia. We are beasts crawling between heaven and earth.
Bottom line? One of my favourite novels I have read this year.

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