Kelsey recommends the novel Potted Meat by Steven Dunn:
Steven Dunn’s Potted Meat (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2017) will make you take a beat. You will use this beat to think about everything and then nothing at all. His words will conjure up from the pit of your stomach things you try to ignore. Meaty bits, fuzzy beats. Hurtful things. It is an extraordinary book.
Potted Meat is a novel separated into three acts—Lift Tab, Peel Back, Enjoy Contents. Each act contains a series of vignettes that chronicle the life of a boy living in a small, southern town in West Virginia. These vignettes showcase a wide range of humanness—everywhere and in between from experiencing emotional and physical abuse by the hand of your family, to the flutter of being young and seen. There are silences in these traumas, and Dunn plays widely in this space.
Some of the most poignant examples of these silences in the novel occur after conversations between the narrator and his sister.
She says, If you actually found love what would you do with it.
That’s a stupid question.
No it aint, she says. Just answer it. What would you do with love.
The body and survival are important characters in Potted Meat, but love finds its way in and creates the silences in the novel that ring most crucial. Love is heavily juxtaposed in this novel with pain—sometimes these two things become inextricable. Familial boundaries, racial boundaries, physical boundaries are all pushed and pulled. Dunn flexes his talent for this movement using a voice sensitive to the visual.
On the narrator’s “Usual Route,”
Draped across the tops of three trash cans are large bouquets of funeral flowers, wilted off-white and droopy pink roses buried in full deep green leaves. The sun peeks over the mountains, rays poking through fog, tinting everything soft yellow.
A stunning experiment of the economy of words and space, coupled as a masterful example of visceral imagery, Steven Dunn presents us a contemporary bildungsroman that we should read, re-read, and cherish. Potted Meat is a novel of great power and importance.