Enon by Paul Harding
Published by Random House
Publication date: September 10th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Literary
They are a young couple who had a single child young and who lost the child in an instant of combustion and are straggling around their home in shock at the child’s death but nonetheless trying to spare each other in at least some slight degree the full blow of the end of their fragile marriage by acting as if it isn’t the end for just a little longer, by spreading the blow over just a little more time so it does not fall on them all at once.
Enon is the newest novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Paul Harding. In it, Charlie Crosby is faced with the worst fate a parent can imagine: the death of a child. Thirteen-year-old Kate, his only child, is hit by a car while riding her bike. What follows is the diary of a man without a reason for living. Initially, there is inertia so deep that he is unable to leave the couch. It is only when his wife asks him to get up and help her that he finds the ability to act and punches a wall, breaking eight bones in his hand. Unable to deal with his version of grief, his wife leaves to go stay with her family in Minnesota. With her gone, Charlie is left only with ever-increasing amounts of whiskey and painkillers.
Through Harding’s delicate touch with a word or phrase we slide into dereliction much as Charlie does. His love for his daughter is so profound, his loss so great that his slippage from the orbit of his life towards a black hole of despair seems feasible. The initial lies to refill prescriptions, using water with cereal when there is no milk, changing clothes instead of showering; all could happen. Who can judge another’s grief? It is not until Charlie is using a flashlight to search for dropped pills along the baseboards, is sleeping outside even in winter, and has broken into a neighbor’s home to get drugs, that we reel back from what he has become. In trying to recapture his daughter’s memory, to negate or deny her death, he desecrates her life. While not willing to kill himself, he opts for self-abuse and neglect, going the passive route towards death, cutting himself off from all that is alive.
A breeze would rise and I’d fall asleep watching the traces it made among the ferns. I would awaken curled up on my side, warm against the ground but chilled down my back. I would curl up tighter but be unable to warm myself. It would be late afternoon and the warmth gone from the sun, and the sun’s light would knife through the trees sharp and gold. As chilly as it might be, I did not want to return to the house.
There is very little trajectory in Enon. Time may be passing but it has no meaning nor does the outside world, even when Charlie does interact with it. The novel takes place largely inside his head and heart. He is flooded with memories, not just of his daughter and their life, but of days spent working with his grandfather, and playing in the forest with his friends. The family has always lived in Enon and the town becomes as much a character as the people. Harding’s prose is both leaden with grief and brimming with life.
Enon hurts. The words ache and the novel is heart-wrenching to read. We want to stop or make it go away, avoid its slow, numbing pain and yet, like death itself; it should not be ignored. Harding has created a work with monstrous beauty in its sadness and a gentle healing in its acceptance.