The cleverly titled Spill Simmer Falter Wither (March 2016) by Sara Baume is already one of my favorite books of 2016. Quiet, intense books appeal to me, particularly when the language is so gorgeously evocative that I need to stop and reread sentences just for the pleasure of their sound.
A troubled man adopts a one-eyed dog, a good ratter he hopes, as there are rats in his attic. Ray lives a frightened life and though he is now middle-aged, he’s had little contact with people beyond his now deceased dad. Adopting ONEEYE from the shelter brings Ray the deepest relationship of his life.
When ONEEYE injures another dog, Ray fears for his dog’s fate. They flee, living in Ray’s car for a year, traveling the country. Two wanderers, they are opposites in personality. The dog is as aggressive as Ray is passive. The dog will eat anything while Ray selects from the same limited menu. Together, they are almost whole.
Told effectively in second-person point of view, the story allows us to eavesdrop as Ray speaks to ONEEYE, sharing his confessions, his fears, his self-loathing. We observe the dog through Ray’s lens, read into it his dependence upon his master. Slowly we learn of Ray’s relationship with his father and come to understand this sad man.
Baume’s sense of place is superb and though it’s not directly named, we infer the story is set in seaside Ireland. The protagonist is not directly named either, only conveyed as “it is the same word as sun beams and winged and boneless sharks (8).” The prose is lyrical and distinctive; Baume rounds a corner to make a point.
The winner of numerous awards including the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year Award, Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a powerful debut that I will read again. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Carol Malkin
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