“How the Days of Love & Diphtheria” by Robert Kloss (Reviewed by David Tomaloff)
Robert Koss’s HOW THE DAYS OF LOVE & DIPHTHERIA is the third installment of the Nephew imprint offered by Mud Luscious Press. It’s a right handsome little book weighing in at about fifty pages divided into four chapters. I feel as though there is a little less white space involved than I have become accustomed to seeing from Mud Luscious books, though overall readability is not negatively impacted. Oddly, I was not readily familiar with Kloss’s work prior to reading this book, nor was I very informed on exact details regarding the bacterial disease known as diphtheria. Though the former isn’t a necessity to enjoy the book, I highly recommend a quick overview of the latter if you aren’t up on your disturbing medical ailments, particularly the kinds that swell necks and leave gaping craters in the flesh of their victims.
As an unapologetic lover of the work Mud Luscious (and particularly Nephew) produces, I found HOW THE DAYS OF LOVE & DIPHTHERIA to be an extremely difficult work to take in at times. Don’t misunderstand me. It wasn’t because the writing was subpar—it most certainly is not. Nor was it because the movement wasn’t there—on the contrary, it certainly is. Rather, the trouble was simply that HOW THE DAYS OF LOVE & DIPHTHERIA is a dense canvas of a particularly dark and intense kind. Its pages are rife with death and disease; with flesh and with fire; with ghosts and distrust; with the weight of destruction, longing, suffering, and absolute love in the face of all of this, coexistent on every page. Kloss is, as Blake Butler put it, “doing creation and destruction,” and he doesn’t hesitate to spill blood all over the text from the very outset:
“Few stories as old as the story of the boy whose family you killed. What authors of ruin, you with your black masks, your knives. Few stories so sorrowful as mother and father and how you left them strewn, cut apart and opened, how the birds and barn cats crawled within and slept, how they seemed under the wide light of the house you set ablaze. How your horses thundered the hillsides, clouds of dust and soot, the long green grasses gone black in your wake. How father was washing the car and then your knives slid into his throat. How father slept in his hammock and then before him, your black masks and long teeth.”
“How in those days we insulated the walls with hair, bones of children, farm animals dead, he said. Entire horse carcasses often warmed the children within.
This is not to imply the book is a reckless or gratuitously violent work. In fact, if it were such a work, one would likely find it much easier to remain safely detached. One could feel safe enough in knowing it is only a book. One could feel free to disengage, eat dinner, and forget the faces. Instead, Kloss’s sentences build and stack upon each other in such compelling ways that the reader is perpetually drawn deeper and more attached to the faces and landscapes as the story unfolds. And that’s just it: It becomes quite clear early on that neither the faces nor the landscapes will fare well in the end, and their chances are only diminished as the text plays out:
“How a light flashed and the horizon rumbled with animals. How the boy held his daughter on the back porch and how in that moment he knew what he had lost a thousand years before, and how only now did he ache for what had been. How the sky opened and hummed and the boy knew enough to say with his final sound, ‘I love you’ rather than what he knew, ‘I should have killed them.’ How she could not hear within the sky, broken into lights and impossible colors. How their ears popped and clogged with pus and they were forced to imagine the impossible roar.”
The reader is cast in the loathsome role of one who exterminates to cleanse, whose job it is to set fire to and destroy a town and people ravaged by terrible, incurable disease. However, as a reader, it becomes impossible not to invest emotionally in, and become equally, the boy, the mother, the father, the man, the woman, the son, the daughter, the husband and wife—the town and its eradicator, all at once. Our hearts become the hearts of the entire cast, of whom no one is spared, not even those in peripheral view:
“In those days our women died by childbirth or by the flames. How many women we found as if tarred, sprawled out on front lawns, within pantries. Yes, so often an unwed mother became a living wick, and her condition was cured by the long blue flames—.”
I should emphasize that I have not aimed to dissuade by any means. In fact, I highly recommend a reading of HOW THE DAYS OF LOVE & DIPHTHERIA, but I don’t recommend you do so lightly or without preparation for full engagement. Kloss’s words are wreckage and destruction; the kind that is beautiful, which resonates; the kind that haunts and uproots the very room in which it is read; the kind you don’t quite shake even after you’ve reminded yourself it is only a book. In Kloss’s scorched earth vision, even the reader becomes a ghost that leaves part of itself within the pages:
“How the boy said, ‘mama, I’m going to die,” and how she knew enough to say, “no you aren’t honey, no you never will.’ How this boy could only stare back at his father and mother and why they lied.”
Almost immediately upon finishing the book, I sent a note to MLP kingpin J. A. Tyler containing the words I feel summed my reaction up well: “Man, this book is disturbing. I mean, it’s amazingly well done. It just flows. It’s mercurial in that it reminds me of the tiny vials we used to find sealed in thermostats as children, the way it moves—grotesquely reflective, fast and heavy.”
Mercury in a tiny vial; beautiful and potentially poisonous. These are phrases I feel accurately reflect the words contained in Robert Kloss’s disturbingly exquisite work. How thin or how thick the barrier of glass depends on us individually as readers, though I won’t recommend it as a literary bedtime snack.
Hell of a little monster, Mr. Kloss, and one giant hell of a book. Your very words have affected me so.
MORE INFORMATION: http://mudlusciouspress.com/nephew/
David Tomaloff (b. 1972) is a writer, photographer, musician, and all around bad influence. His work has appeared in fine publications such as Mud Luscious, >kill author, Thunderclap!, HOUSEFIRE, Prick of the Spindle, DOGZPLOT, elimae, and many more. He is the author of the chapbooks, A SOFT THAT TOUCHES DOWN &REMOVES ITSELF (NAP) Olifaunt (The Red Ceilings Press), EXIT STRATEGIES (Gold Wake Press) and MESCAL NON-PALINDROME CINEMA (Ten Pages Press). He resides in the form of ones and zeros at: davidtomaloff.com