All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Big Ray – Michael Kimball

on January 28, 2013

Big RayBig Ray
Michael Kimball
Bloomsbury Circus
2012, 182p
Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury ANZ

Daniel’s father was known as Big Ray – a large man for most of his life, his temper was even larger. He was a forceful man, a man with presence and his presence coloured every aspect of Daniel’s life. As a child, he adored Big Ray – looked up to him and idolised him. As his childhood faded into adolescence and adulthood, Daniel came to have very different feelings for Big Ray.

When Daniel is entering his late thirties his sister informs him that Big Ray is dead, was probably dead for days before anyone found him. Daniel begins to put together his memories of Big Ray, to reconstruct the man from the beginning of his life to end. He uses the few photographs he has and his own memories to deal with how he feels about his father really being gone.

Big Ray is not a big book. It’s less than 200p, 500 “entries” or memories that Daniel has about his now-deceased father. In a very slim volume, author Michael Kimball has managed to say an awful lot. He’s given us complete characters that come to life, the characters of Daniel, Big Ray, even Daniel’s mother and sister. Daniel reconstructs his life for the reader, in bits and pieces that all come together to make a whole.

…The size of my father could be terrifying. I think that partly defined our relationship.

I think what I found so effective about this book was the way in which Daniel reminisced about his father, the way in which he tried to justify his love for his father at the same time that he tried to justify his fear and his dislike. Big Ray was an angry man, a man with who found many things in life to become angry about. This book mentions quite often the amount of times in which Daniel was physically or verbally abused, or his mother being abused but as if these things were normal. It wasn’t laid out in graphic, horrific detail – Daniel was just honestly recounting things as he had experienced them, as if this was the way that all sons were treated. As much as Daniel remembers the difficult moments, the ways in which he disappointed his father, he also remembers the pride that he had in his father when he was young, the small moments with his father that made him feel good, the ways in which he felt that the might have connected, even for just a small amount of time. He even manages to have compassion for his father, pity for his enormous size (at the time of his death, Big Ray weighed around 500lbs).

Daniel’s feelings about his father, both in life and death are so complex and so amazingly well captured. Big Ray was not an admirable man, in fact I’m hard pressed to remember reading anything about him that could be termed as positive. Daniel’s feelings for him revolve around being his son, a desire to have been closer to him, to have had a better relationship with him, to possibly have seen him in a better light – to have wished him to be a better person. I think Daniel grieves as much for the loss of opportunity, the passing of a fantasy as well. He will never have the dad he wanted now, he has no dad. This partly relieves him as well, because when Big Ray was alive, he made Daniel’s early life a misery in many ways. He no longer has to deal with that misery or face it anymore. It’s no longer going to happen.

Towards the end of the book, Big Ray is revealed to be truly repulsive and it made me question why both Daniel and his sister chose to stay in contact with him and remain a part of his life after they progressed into adulthood and moved out of the family home and into their own homes. Daniel’s mother divorces Big Ray around 10 years prior to his death after at least one attempt to leave him before, so they really have no actual reason to continue to keep in touch with someone who has treated them the way Big Ray did. And yet even as I questioned it, I found it realistic as well. Family relationships are infinitely complicated and it can be extremely hard to sever those ties, especially with people who have been such a strong presence in your life, people that you’ve looked up to and people that you want a stronger, deeper connection with. People that you’re predisposed to love.

Big Ray is a deceptively simple book that manages to be deep and beautifully powerful. I absolutely devoured each snippet of Daniel’s, wanting to know more yet at the same time, feeling helplessly sorry for him, and lucky for myself, that I have the father I do, that he’s still alive and that also, my children have the father that they do. As a mother, I did find myself judging Daniel’s mother, who suspected things but never did anything to investigate or remove the children from the situation. It made me sad and angry that this type of enabling behaviour takes place, but again, it’s a reflection on the reality of society.


Book #24 of 2013



2 responses to “Big Ray – Michael Kimball

  1. This one has been on my radar for a while – think I need to read it!

  2. This was such a surprise to receive and I really enjoyed it too.

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