The beautiful thing about a poem is that it is capable of capturing a single moment in detailed description. A Man of Glass and All the Ways We have Failed by J.A. Tyler captures many such moments as a relationship comes to an end. Compared to prose, poetry is lyrical, able to be linguistically descriptive in a unique and creative way. This style of writing often relies more on metaphors and imagery instead of a straightforward re-telling, and this is what Tyler does here.
For a prose novel it’s amazingly short, but for a poem it’s somewhat epic. This makes A Man of Glass… hard to categorize as it seems somewhat of a misfit in terms of its place in literature. Readers may hesitate to pay for such a slim volume, and one can’t help but reach the cynical conclusion that the way it is written is somewhat of a marketing gimmick in an attempt to appeal to a wider-cross section of buyer. Instead of writing a novel, let’s make it a novel that reads like a poem – it’s unique and edgy.
While A Man of Glass… seems to highlight style over quantity, there is an unmistakable point to make. The writing emphasizes the tragedy of a romance doomed to failure, as so many are. The couple here wants to save their love — or do they? They seem conflicted, as if they are trying desperately to continue something that has run its course. It’s frustrating to not have an explanation for why things happen the way they do and that frustration can be felt through the characters. They are struggling with futility.
“There is love left he says but is not sure where to find it or how to hold it in his hands.”
This sense of uselessness is present at the very beginning of the novel and is a constant theme throughout the writing. Many romances are short-lived, and Tyler has a very good grasp on that fact. Most readers are aware of that fact as well, and Tyler emphasizes his themes of futility and loss, winding them throughout. The story becomes so laden with images that at times it distracts from the point, but readers will recognize the pattern and sense what is going on, even if they are momentarily lost among the metaphors and descriptions.
The reader may not mind being lost though, as the writing is often quite beautiful. Tyler has a master grip on language and he writes with ultimate descriptive power - “Her ocean, her tumult, until all is calm again and his glass body has broken entirely, star pools and shards on asphalt…” Tyler also plays with word meaning to make a point:
“It is morning again. It is mourning. There is morning.” Each line emphasizes an important part of the narrative, succeeding in stressing how somehow it is the small, everyday moments that can mean the difference between success and destruction.
“He cries and she looks neutral. He cries and she doesn’t look at him. He cries and she cannot stand to face him.”
Few people in the world have not suffered the ending of a relationship. The almost overwhelming, omnipresent theme of heartbreak in A Man of Glass… will touch readers and probably agitate long dormant memories of lost loves for many. This is effective, as it is a piece of writing that emphasizes memory instead of hope as the only means to fight a losing battle against time and despair.