Daniel didn’t know his father was dead until a few days after it happened. His death brings mixed feelings; both relief and sadness. Weighing in at over 500 pounds, Big Ray was not an easy man to know. His temper defined Daniel’s childhood and distanced them as adults. As Daniel comes to terms with his loss, he recalls memories and anecdotes of his father, from birth to death.
I don’t know if it counts as a kind of suicide – to eat yourself to death.
Big Ray is made up of 500 entries, one for each pound both Daniel’s and Michael Kimball’s fathers weighed. Whilst the structure of short memories and snippets of information works, I found the number a bit tenuous as some of them are really one entry split up. The narrative jumps around very much like a train of thought, mirroring the patterns of memory. When we think of a lost one we don’t do so in a linear fashion. It also deals with the conflicts of grieving someone you may have loved but not liked. Daniel’s relationship with his father was a difficult one but he was still his father.
There is a semi-autobiographical slant to the novel as the author’s father was also obese, adding authenticity to the descriptions of Ray’s weight and the things that became difficult as he grew. There isn’t a sense of why he ate so much, just that he was overbearing both in physical size and personality.
I didn’t have to make many telephone calls, but some of them were difficult. There were a few people who needed to be reminded who my father was and I was surprised they had been able to forget him. I asked each of them how they did it, but none of them could explain.
The words “my father” are used a lot throughout the prose, partly creating a sense of detachment but it started to grate on me after a while. Each entry has it at least once and it’s not like there would be any ambiguity to who is being referred to. It’s obviously being used for effect but one that started to get in the way of my enjoyment a little. Otherwise, it’s a powerful, little book.
Big Ray will be published by Bloomsbury Circus on 6th December 2012 in trade paperback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.