Pushcart 2015: Alan Rossi, “Unmoving Like a Mighty River Stilled” from Missouri Review, #36.3

"Icarus": sculpture by Russell Whiting

“Icarus”: sculpture by Russell Whiting

Blake’s SUV wound along the highway, and in the distance the Sierra rose gray and snow-specked against the horizon. Blake was driving, rarely watching the road, and talking about the new helmet camera he had bought. Kieran sat in the backseat and watched the back of Blake’s long, ponytailed red hair, wondering if Blake noticed how often he was correcting for left of center, while Blake continued talking about the helmet cam, his head bobbing while he spoke. Kieran occasionally glanced at the back of Ian’s head, shotgun, a clean-shaved-bald head, to see how he was responding to Blake, if he was as annoyed as Kieran. He didn’t think Ian was. Blake was going to use the helmet cam on the climb up the Dome, he was saying, correcting left of center, and then hop into a canyon right behind Kieran with the helmet cam on to record the entire thing, POV. Ian could take the pics, but Blake wanted to hear the fear, is how he put it.
All you’re going to hear is a lot of wind, Ian said. But you go ahead, little buddy. Watch the road.

While I had enormous empathy for the main character Kieran and found his existential dilemma both familiar and intriguing, this story was by far the hardest for me to read in this anthology. I don’t think it was the long – sometimes multi-page long – paragraphs, or the contemporary eschewal of quotation marks or the unfamiliar situation of three extreme sportsmen out for a climb, or a fly, or whatever the hell it is they’re out for. I just found it extremely hard to connect my understanding of Kieran’s dis-ease, as he puts it, with the story. I wonder, as I often do when I struggle with a piece, if that’s the point.

He seems like someone I’d enjoy knowing. His friends seem like frat boys I’d avoid. I have a hard time understanding if he used to be more like them, or if they’ve become more like themselves, or if I’m just an old fart who has no patience with this show-off he-man thing. Hey, I watch American Ninja Warrior, and watched the original Ninja Warriors when it was available, so I can’t have that hard a time with show-off he-men.

And yet, I struggled to read this piece. I’m still pretty sure I missed most of it.

One of the main reasons for self pitying: he worked as a Client Relations Manager for an insurance claims unit. He could not see himself as an Insurance Claims District Manager. Yet he was one, chatting and approving or disapproving claims and making small talk, the whole time watching himself, sickened by it, doing this chatting and small-talking. His voicemail had become a point of great disturbance and dis-ease in his life. He often thought “dis-ease” and then “disease” and then “dis-ease.” Titties, titties,titties, Blake was going.

It’s passages like that, that make me think I’ve missed something great. Maybe someday I’ll go back for it. Because this recognition that something is basically wrong with the way one is living one’s life, this analytical approach to a state that is all jumbled emotion, this being stuck with the moronic Blake and wondering how to get free, or if it’s possible to get free, that’s something that interests me.

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