Spill Simmer Falter Wither

By Dan Clendenin

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Sara Baume, Spill Simmer Falter Wither (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), 274pp.

This debut novel by the Irish writer Sara Baume has won numerous awards for its portrayal of the love between two deeply wounded creatures — a misanthropic recluse named Ray and his abandoned and abused dog One Eye (so named for a wound from a badger). What really drives the novel is its delightfully strange narrative device, a 274-page second person soliloquy by Ray to One Eye, in which he unburdens himself of his many hurts.

“I’m all on my own,” Ray tells One Eye, “just like you.” It’s like he’s wearing a space suit which “buffers” him from people, who at any rate avoid him — at the bank, the grocery store, or the playground. He’s a truly strange man, living alone in his dead father’s dilapidated house on Tawny Bay, a stranger, like an ugly troll.

Ray is deeply aware of his wretchedness and insignificance: “They all think I don’t notice. But I do.” He fears every social situation. He quit going to mass after his father died. He distrusts good fortune. He’s not one of the “regular people.” In the one instance when he did feel like a “regular” person, who did regular things in a regular way, he says that he felt uncharacteristically inconspicuous, unsuspicious, even ordinary, and “it felt good, so good.”

“Sometimes I see the sadness in you,” Ray tells One Eye, “the same sadness that’s in me.” His sadness comes mainly from his complicated and buried memories of his deceased father, and the mystery of a mother that he never knew. When One Eye attacks another dog, something like Girardian scape-goating forces them to flee their village. They head inland, and drive and drive and drive, then return to the village and his father’s house (“the saddest place in our whole small world”). “See the community we were insidiously hounded from,” he tells One Eye. “See how community is only a good thing when you’re a part of it.” Indeed.

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