Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Everybody in Buffalo wants to find a way to be ourselves in the world in a way to be noticed as something not quite dismiss-able, the way that Buffalo is. To do that, you have to find a theme - a big theme, that will sustain an entire novel, or a life, without once seeming clunky or contrived or making the whole text one extended metaphor in any way that you've heard it all already.
Yeah, who would want to go there? What is it we all avoid? Could that be where the humanity is? Could it? Can we look hard at the City of No Illusions and retain any illusions for ourselves?
People give up, you know, fall back, from dreams and accept life in its fullest mediocrity, take pride in that to the point of delusional boosterism, so? But why would you want to go there if given the chance to go somewhere else? Lots of creative types get born here, but they call it their beloved home. They don't stay. Visiting celebrities, filming, say, love it here. Why would they stay? Maybe aging football stars find a place where they can remain a celebrity for the rest of their lives.
From the inside, Buffalo seems a place of might-have-beens, if-onlies. Petty politics, advantaging local bigshots, trump vision every time and so we build our perpetual wanna-be flagship university out of town, wipe out our waterfront with highways and dead industrial tracts, and conspire to route traffic around our natural transportation hub. Hell, we even sell our hydro-power down the river, downstate.
So, it's in the person of a once-vital Mom, a noted expert in the care of elderly demented patients, who herself becomes a living shell of who she once was, that Buffalo can come alive, in words at least, as something larger than its life.
Something about each of our lives, no matter how accomplished, no matter how smug or self-satisfied must remain in the world's capitals of mediocrity. You will find yourself less than you could be and at the same time find the lock-jawed striving in the face of white-out blizzards determination to find in yourself and in your life something still better. Something to make light of. Something to brood about, and mostly long long lists of friends who care for you as you are.
This is not the fictional Buffalo. This is the real thing, real places named and authenticated. Real characters. I live here. I know them. I am them. If you want to be judged by your proximity to beauty, to power, to accomplishment, then this is not your place. But you are not those things, and if you are, you won't be for long.
If you realize, as did de Kooning in an essay which was for me, the central figure in this novel, "Content is a Glimpse;" if you realize that perfect beauty is always only glimpsed, perfect accomplishment, no matter that the glimpse may last an entire performance. I haven't read that essay, but it's title gives a glimpse, right? into its content.
In the end, that's all we are to each other, unless we make more of it than that. Unless we commit to stark beginnings and endings. Unless we understand that regret perpetuates the dissected stare, the bloodied guts-revealed loss of what might have been which is the city of Buffalo. Where only a glimpse is required for a father and son to bond, to conspire, to complete life.
Our natural disasters merit guffaws. No hurricanes, no oil to spew, just perpetual and powerful Falls. No Superbowl wins, ever, before they will inevitably move to another town more celebrated. More besieged by worse disasters. Ours are merely relentless. And of our very own making, if you'd like to have some excuse to pass us by.
But this novel makes of Buffalo what it truly is. A life. Worth living in and by and through. Stark. But not Carol-Oates stark. These are lives moving up, the way you feel when facing the Falls.
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