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Issue 11: Vhcle Books – Big Ray
 
 
 
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Autobiographical or not, the father-son relationship in Big Ray is complicated and honest. Dan misses his father, but feels almost guilty for it. He feels lost knowing his dad is dead, but also relieved. His narration is all the more moving for its tentative uncertainty; there are no easy, sweeping statements to be found here. It would have been easy to turn
the tender into the mawkish and the angry into the shrill. Kimball, though, uses understatement to great effect, and his subtlety rescues the book from becoming bludgeoning.
 
For such a 'simple' book – and the style mostly avoids becoming tiring – I found the timeline difficult to follow at first, which is unnecessary given its simplicity (it reveals that the story is being told a few years after Ray's death). More significantly, there's one moment, near the end, where Kimball pulls back the curtain just a little too far, and makes Ray's story a little too neat. It becomes too easy to hate him, and the balance is tipped when there had been a careful, sinister tension. It's a strange mis-step, although the reveal handled well – but I can't help wishing the unsettling hints dropped earlier had remained veiled.
 
But these are minor points that should not detract from what is an impressive achievement, one that stays with you some time after the tell-tale compression of the final pages. It's an underrated skill to write simply yet effectively, and Kimball has done it very well. Big Ray is a huge success.
 
Verdict: They fuck you up, your mum and dad
 
 
 
 
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This article can be found in Vhcle Issue 11

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Jamie Thunder is Vhcle's books editor, and he works, reads and writes in the South of England. When he's not doing any of these he runs long distances, and is always very relieved when he's got to the end.
Read other articles by Jamie Thunder
 
YOU CAN TELL a lot about a book from its cover
– or at least from the jacket quotes that adorn it. Michael Kimball's fourth book carries endorsements from the usual suspects: the
Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Oprah.com (Big Ray has been out in the US since September, arriving in Britain last month). But the headline space on the cover is reserved for Jon McGregor, a well-regarded but hardly household-name British novelist.
 
It's an interesting choice, and could mark it out as a niche literary book rather than one deserving a wider audience. But Big Ray is a book to devour. Every one of its quietly considered paragraphs, each split by an asterisk break and divided into 29 chapters, leads you relentlessly onward. Just one more, just one more then I'll stop, you tell yourself, until you discover you've accidentally scarfed the lot.
 
It's appropriate, because over the course of this memorable novel we learn that the title character, Ray Harold Carrier, has something of an
eating problem:
 
Toward the end of his life, my father had difficulty walking. This was partly because of his weight and partly because he had developed bone spurs on his feet (which were partly caused by his weight). The bone spurs were his feet's response to being asked
to carry so much weight. His feet started making extra bone to support the extra pounds. His feet were the only thing trying to do something about my father's weight.
 
Ray isn't just physically large; he occupies a gigantic space in his son's – the narrator's mind. At the start of the novel Daniel Carrier takes the call that informs him he no longer has a father, and the rest is taken up by his recollections. Sometimes these are spurred by photographs of his father, other times simply looking back over his memories. He remembers being a child, revelling in being called Tiger and all too frequently craving recognition that doesn't come; and he remembers the later years when, freed from the blinkers of childhood, he starts to feel a combination of shame, pity, and love that pushes and pulls him from one perspective to another.
 
What really marks Big Ray out is the sparse simplicity of the writing, which often lends a welcome note of humour to what could be overbearingly bleak. It's a book of a man in shock, trying to make sense not just of his father's recent death, but also of his life by tracing it as best he can; it's also a book about his father, who we only glimpse from certain angles, and his life. It treads the line between the idealistic unquestioning bonds of family and the complicated reality with great poise – tantalisingly, the book is dedicated to the author's
late father.
 
 
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2013
 
Big Ray

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AUTHOR MICHAEL KIMBALL
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Big Ray, March 2013 Vhcle Magazine
Issue 11, Vhcle Books
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REVIEWED BY
JAMIE THUNDER
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