“Life is hard” – Off Season by James Sturm

Adopting a similarly muted palette to David Small’s Life After Dark, James Sturm’s latest is a highly charged family drama exploring life in Trump’s America in the literal dog days of the end of a marriage (we say dog days – Sturm adopts the tried and tested trick of anthropomorphising the broken family as a family of dogs, with dad working in construction, mum working in politics – for Hillary, no less! – and the kids being, well, kids).

Off Season is a chunky landscape hardback running to just over 200 pages, each of which, for the most part, tend to include two large frames (although Sturm does employ blank spaces to powerful effect too). It’s three months since the marriage ended, three months since two Bernie supporters splintered, one going to Hilary and one – despite knowing the guy is an asshole – going the other way. Trump’s guy is our narrator which feels good to this reader. I want to hear from those characters, I want to make sense of it.

“Trump is a walking sack of bullshit,” he tells us. “But Hillary is just more of the same old crap. Not that I’d vote for Trump but at least he’s his own man.”

It’s a sad book, obviously, a book that teeters between the kind of wistfulness you see in, say, John Porcellino’s From Lone Mountain to the kind of raw, drunken foolishness you see in a Ray Carver short story or Richard Ford’s Bascombe novels (our narrator is stiffed by his boss and there isn’t a way he can resolve it that sees him get paid). Sturm’s book also does that thing that Guy Delisle’s slim parental guides do – helping you feel less alone, less ashamed and less beaten up for every time you maybe shouted at your kid, or went overboard, or got too angry over too little a thing. We all do it, Off Season says. Cut yourself some slack. Life is hard.

That’s the strange thing, sometimes, about reading what you might say is a sad book; you can’t help but end up feeling a little better than you did at the beginning. Maybe the book worked in the same way for Sturm too (he thanks friends in the acknowledgments who “sang, cooked and house painted me through some rough patches”). Howsoever, coping with Trump’s America (or Brexit Britain for that matter) seems to rely on troubles shared being troubles halved. Off Season works that spell to its advantage.

Any Cop?: Big thumb’s up from us.

 

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