Click here to read reviewer Sandie Kirkland's take on Enon.
After the author winning a Pulitzer with his first novel, Paul Harding’s Enon must surely suffer the paradoxical state of a sophomore novel: there are high expectations for his work, while simultaneously everyone expects it to fall somewhat short of his previous endeavor. Such is the case with Enon, a novel that is relegated to the curse of the “sophomore slump.” If it deserves to be labeled as such or is just a victim of circumstance is arguable.
(grandson of Tinkers’ George Crosby) is a middle-aged man whose life reeks of average predictability until a most unexpected tragedy occurs: his thirteen-year-old daughter, Kate, is runover by a car and dies. This event begins a series of horrors that span the course of a little more than a year. The tragedy is compounded by the dissolution of Charlie’s marriage soon after the accident and a torrid descent into grief-addled drug addiction.
The focus becomes Charlie’s life both in the past and present--seemingly without hope for the future. In a series of disjointed flashbacks, likely comparable to the instability of an addict’s mind, Harding gives readers the background of a man who suffers and, perhaps, only ever has a chance at the most mediocre of happiness until even that is denied him. Nevertheless, Harding excels in this seeming unimportance. He creates intense imagery with ornate descriptions of the trivial that forces the question of why Harding does not apply his efforts to poetry, yet one would fear the loss to novels should he ever quit writing in such a medium.
Crosby continues to confront his life in the present by reminiscing on his past. These include memories of his daughter and his grandfather, both of whom have left him. His remembrances seem unremarkable and distant, as if they are the recollections of someone who has never truly lived. Most certainly, this is because his youthful tales seem average. There are no truly daring escapades of a youthful
Charlie Crosby, nor do there seem to be any remarkable milestones. There is the sense that any rebellious urge he may have ever had, if any at all, finds release only in his sudden drug addiction and decline, so much so that the irony is palpable: for Crosby to finally break free from routine and fully experience life, his daughter must die.
This is further realized by the life around him that comes to the reader in only the briefest of glimpses filtered through Charlie’s perspective. Named for the town in which the novel is set, Enon portrays only the slightest of frustrations usually associated with being from a small town. Crosby cannot escape his love of the town that nurtured his existence and shaped his life; however, his fascination in describing the town’s history is not necessarily intriguing to readers and seems only mildly salient to the narrative. While readers suffer the dull details of yet another literary New England hamlet (hardly a fresh idea), this picturesque haven turns against Crosby, Enon’s biggest fan. It is in the sleepy village of Enon that his daughter is denied him.
Sleep punctuates Crosby’s life and many of the story breaks. The reader falls asleep when Crosby does. They awaken when Crosby does. The disorientation becomes a primary part of the narrative, and dreams become an active part of Crosby’s life--not only the sleeping but also the waking as he repeatedly envisions his daughter, dead and alive, in unique situations, offering advice and criticism, growing up, not growing up at all. While she does and does not do these things in Crosby’s fantasies, the seasons change and time passes.
Change through death, after all, is the most prominent theme of the novel. Death of a daughter, death of a marriage, death of a way of life, all of these changes circulate around Crosby as he engages in self-destructive behavior bordering on the suicidal. Throw in several trips to the graveyard, and the reader is on an introspective, existential lazy-river ride that stops as abruptly as life often does.