Monday, October 05, 2015

Know Your Beholder by Adam Rapp

Everyone knows the age-old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But sometimes a cover is so quirky or intriguing that I just have to find out if the story is as well thought out as the cover. This is exactly what happened with Know Your Beholder. Something about the cover, an old house sprouting out of a big bushy beard, was so intriguing that I picked it up without even reading the synopsis on the inside flap. And I’m so glad I did.

Know Your Beholder tells the story of Francis Falbo, a down-on-his-luck 30-something in south central Illinois. In the past few years, his once promising music career has ended, his mother has died, and his wife ran off to New York City with another man. After his father left for Florida with his new wife, Francis converted his childhood home into apartments, moved into the attic, and now spends his days working on the house and endlessly ruminating on his wife’s new marriage. When the reader first meets Francis he hasn’t left his house in over a month or even changed out of his uniform of long johns, bathrobe, and slippers in nine days.

Francis’s story, though it sounds overly gloomy, is full of quiet beauty and more laugh-out-loud moments than one would expect. His internal dialogue feels both inordinately beautiful and surprisingly natural whether he is contemplating his growing agoraphobia, thinking about his failed band and/or marriage, or spying on his tenants. Rapp is especially good at creating an interesting turn of phrase, such as when Francis describes his drug dealer, Haggis, talking about fitness “as far away from the concept of the word as a shipwrecked man from a fax machine.”

Fans of Nick Hornby’s odd but loveable characters will enjoy Know Your Beholder, but be warned: this is not a story of redemption and there is no real happy ending for our hapless hero. At the end of the story, a lot of things have changed in Francis’s life, but very little has really improved for him. Luckily, there is at least the possibility of a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel he has dug for himself.

-Portia Kapraun

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