“Freight” by Mel Bosworth (reviewed by Martin McCaulay)
Freight begins with the dedication For everyone and everything, ever. It is apt, for in summary Freight is about life: yours, mine, theirs. In his novel, Mel Bosworth encapsulates how we are shaped into the people we become and the effect our lives and interactions have on shaping others. He shows how we are moulded by those events around us, and how on occasion, we can find the courage to swim headlong through to the other side, stronger, sometimes, but forever altered. At times though, we can, and do, break. Bend us too much and we will snap, leaving behind an unutterable space.
The book is structured around past actions. This allows us to skip through different times in the narrator’s life, connected by action although not necessarily historical proximity. Bosworth’s skill is to effortlessly step across large gulfs of time, scooping the reader with him, without losing the sense of where we are, nor what’s going on. To add to the non-linear narrative we are able to jump from section to section at leisure. Pointers at different paragraphs allow the reader to jump to to a different page and experience the story in an alternative order of their choosing.
We begin as we begin our lives, by discovering. Things, people, places, pain, love, whatever it may be. A first time for everything, we are told. ‘I Found’ starts with our narrator finding Sarah and subsequently rediscovering her as they grow apart and reconnect. The writing is direct and effective. When Sarah is ‘found…again’ he learns about her attack, beaten by a man, ‘by less than a man’:
My stomach fell to my ankles when I heard the story. My hands crushed candles.
When they meet again ten years later they devour and unwrap themselves for each other.
She told me her story. I listened.
She told me how she’d screamed so hard she tore her esophagus. She told me of the nightmares. She told me of the trial, and the tears. She told me how her life had changed and how she missed people. She told me how she’d only wanted to go home.
As before, their time together doesn’t last.
But after three months we became full, so we stopped eating.
The body becomes a metaphor for a single forging of mind and body. The metaphysical into physical. When he eats, the experience has been digested, it’s in the system, forming part of the psyche as well as lying in the belly, possibly waiting to be thrown up. It’s cleverly utilised and used to explain things to us more simply. There isn’t always room for the things we eat. Sometimes our body rejects the things we eat even though we may want them badly. And there are things that we can’t rid ourselves of, even if we want to.
Everything has a mouth that wants to talk to us.
Everything we put down is another mouth inside of us that talks. We have to watch out for the hungry ones with teeth. These mouths are mean. They’re hard to throw up. Even if we manage to throw them up there will always be a piece that we still carry. And we’ll carry it until we’re gone. It’ll whisper in our ear at night sometimes, and it’ll say things like, “Hey remember me?” and we’ll stick our head beneath the pillow and try not to listen.
The novel sits somewhere between being a handbook or guide about living and the narrator’s attempts to make sense of life. At first it appeared to me like one of those ‘How Things Work’ books offering an insight into sociology or psychology. But If anything, its reach is of a philosophical nature; can we gain true knowledge through experience? The book doesn’t offer us any answers, lessons maybe. We learn about mistakes the narrator has made. They are teased out, we draw our conclusions. In ‘I Destroyed’:
The mother bird was alive which meant I’d missed her when I shot at her with the BB gun. It also meant I’d destroyed her children for nothing. I walked out of the shed, and then I did throw up, all over my pants, and all over the green grass in the yard. I spent the rest of the day by the brook, apologizing to a tiny patch of mounded dirt. My father came down to console me. He put his arm around my shoulder, and he whispered into my ear that he was sorry too.
I don’t like destroying things. Sometimes I think I have to, but I’m usually wrong.
There’s a certain melancholy that runs throughout Freight, but that’s implicit in the title. What we carry and can no longer carry often wears us down, but there is also a lightness and humour to lift us forwards.
She was impressed. I could tell by the way she included a smiley face in her response.
These touches remind us that Mel Bosworth is also the author of Grease Stains, Kismet and Maternal Wisdom. The playfulness evident in that novella shines in Freight too. I loved the fact that Samantha (from Grease Stains) makes a fleeting appearance in Freight. I had a feeling she might turn up and I was glad that she did. Freight is a greater achievement. Beautifully told, heartfelt and funny. Some parts go straight for the heart but never in sentimental or melodramatic way. And we can learn from its wisdom. David Hume said “Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.” This is that story.
Freight is available now at www.foldedword.com.