Michael Kimball’s third book, “Dear Everybody,” will kick you hard in the ass! It’s about a disturbed weatherman, Jonathon Bender, age 32, who kills himself. I think the jolts in it come from the fact that you can’t help but identify with his mental decline. Albert Camus, the author of “The Myth of Sisyphus,” and one of Algeria’s finest sons, said: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.”
The literary device the author uses to tell this tragic and sometimes funny tale of Jonathon’s “short life,” works. It’s a moving story told from a collection of diary entries; unsent letters; notes on conversations from family, friends and an his ex-wife, Sara; news reports; articles and even Jonathon’s “Last Will and Testament.” They were assembled by his younger brother, Robert, from whom he was estranged, after his death.
For review purposes, I’m going to focus on Jonathon’s youngest years since they foretell his destiny. The signs were there early on that he was a troubled, highly sensitive child, who possessed a very lively imagination. He wrote notes, never dispatched, to his parents, “Santa Claus,” the “Easter Bunny,” and to the “Tooth Fairy,” as well.
When the family went out on a day’s outing to Lake Michigan, (they were living in Lansing, MI), Jonathon, then age five, said that when they got home, he pretended “to be asleep” in the car. He was hoping one of his parents would pick him up and “carry him into the house.” That wish, like so many, didn’t come true.
His mom, Alice, loved him the best she could, but the father, Thomas, didn’t. His dad was a traveling salesman with a short temper who never really bonded with his oldest son. He admitted later to his youngest boy, Robert, that he didn’t want to have any more kids for fear it would be “another one like your brother.”
Even at the hospital after Jonathon’s birth, in 1967, the father said that he didn’t look like him because of the reddish color of his hair and skin. Perhaps he thought that he wasn’t even his child. How could Jonathon not know, on some deep psyche level, that his own father had so roundly rejected him?
There is, too, an ugly scene when Jonathon, only six years old, got a soda out of the refrigerator and refused to close the door. His father–it was during the dogs days of summer–lost his cool, and began repeatedly hitting him. The mother had to intervene and stop him. She hinted at the fact that she, too, had been on the receiving end of her abusive husband’s unholy wrath.
Eckhart Tolle in his tome, “The Power of Now,” labeled these kinds of negative experiences, “an emotional pain-body,” which then occupy both the “mind and body.” Jonathon, sadly, had a lot of these life-sucking energies stored up in his badly scarred soul.
What does a beating from your own father, for little or no reason, have to say to a youngster of such a tender age? I think it can say this to the victim: “Betrayal!”
I can remember my father, who worked on the docks, giving me a whipping with his belt. Where do parents get these dumb ideas of discipline from? I can’t recall the reasons why, but I do think back on some of them. The last time it was suppose to happen, I was about eleven. We both knew, however, that it wasn’t going to be. His ass was going to be on the floor, if he took that route one more time with me. The beatings ended there!
What is fascinating about this novel is how Kimball tells Jonathon’s heartbreaking narrative from many different perspectives. You read Jonathon’s fanciful thoughts about what he honestly believes is going on in his life. Then, you’re nonplussed to see that his school teacher, his mom, dad, brother Robert, his shrink, and others, such as his ex-wife, Sara, totally disagree with his account. Jonathon was mostly, out-of-the loop–a lost soul–on his own, solitary journey. Few, if any, were listening to and/or aware of his feelings. It was a journey of an often tortured mind, whose contacts with reality fluctuated wildly.
In some ways, Jonathon reminds me of my late brother, Charles, who slowly drank himself to death. Charles was one good looking dude, “Black Irish” he was. The women loved him, but he was always angry. I couldn’t figure out why? Charles became an alcoholic and died before his 55th birthday. A high school buddy of his, later told me, Charles was the “loneliest” guy that he had ever met. He needed a heart transplant, but Charles wouldn’t stop the drinking. What’s another name for that?
Getting back to the novel. Jonathon is the only three-dimensional character in “Dear Everybody,” and that is how it should be. It’s all about him, his agonizing loneliness and his steady nose dive into a delusional abyss. Others have supporting roles in his drama. We only know them really from a distance. This includes his parents, brother Robert and the ex-wife, Sara, too. There is more than enough, however, in this novel, to feel Jonathon’s rooted pain of growing up in a dysfunctional family, where many of his most intimate contacts were–imaginary!
The book has a number of themes in it, but I think it’s the psychological one that dominates. As I read “Dear Everybody,” I kept asking myself: “What is happening to Jonathon? Is there one incident or many that will contribute to his tragic ending? Was he predestined to exit his life with a big ‘F… you!,’ to humanity?”
In summing up, “Dear Everybody” is first-rating story telling. Kimball’s book will grip the reader at emotional levels. Even though you know up front what’s coming, you will be caring about the painfully lonely Jonathon, right up to his very last breath. (1)
1. The author, Michael Kimball, maintains a blog, at: http://deareverybody.blogspot.com/ and also a web site, too, at: http://michael-kimball.com/index.html There is even a video book trailer on it, which is very well done, indeed. [ALMA Books, 2010, 256 pp, Paperback, $14.95]