Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Book Review: 'Syncopated Rhythm' by James Halat

Author James Halat has experience form several locations of living. He was born in New Jersey, lived in New York City, and now lives in Toyko Japan. To date he has published two books – SYNCOPATED RHYTHM and CLIFFORD AND CLAUDIA.

Knowing this biographical data SYNCOPATED RHYTHM suggests a memoir of sorts, or at least a character the author has created whom he knows quite well – the narrator – no name, just a kind of everyman who is lost in tangential relationships and incidents. His gift at creating conversations, whether overheard or participating, is unique. The language is so appropriately raw when needed and so fragile in other passages. A bit of ‘for instance’, a conversation of a family in a car trip: ‘“Geez, look at the traffic. We’ll be stuck here for an hour. Louise, do you think the temperature gauge is too close to hot?” “It’s fine, Al. And please stop tailgating.” “Look, the gas is already at 3/ 4. We’ll have to stop soon. We don’t want to run out on those country roads. Not with the bears and other animals.” “Stop it, Al. You’ll scare the kids.” “I feel a little shimmy in the wheel. Can you feel it, Louise? I should have never let you talk me into buying this Ford. We should have stayed with a Plymouth.” “We couldn’t afford the Plymouth. Not on what we make.” “I don’t know where all our money goes. I spend half my days in that grocery store and we have nothing to show for it.” “Oh look, kids, we’re almost at the bridge that crosses into Pennsylvania.”
Writing of this apparent simplicity is true craftsmanship and James carries this creative flow throughout the book.

He provides a synopsis that hints at what is inside: ‘Our narrator, who remains unnamed, grows up gay in the 1960s and 1970s. He spends most of his time alone as a child, not interested in school or church or playing with the other children. A harrowing move from New Jersey to a jerkwater town in Pennsylvania only serves to drive him deeper into isolation. There a rare local murder, a deadly motorcycle crash, and a doomed crush on a boy in high school mark his time in the sleepy town. He begins to adapt to his solitary life of empty relationships and pointless jobs by reaching out to the contemporary art world and making ephemeral connections he does not fully grasp, but is convinced will link him to a better world. "The fact that each work is a painting is not what makes it interesting. What makes it interesting is that each painting elicits its own breath." After an unexpected job transfer, he finds himself living in the middle of Tokyo, alone, illiterate, and utterly stunned by his new surroundings. There he wanders into a local bar where he meets a disarmingly attractive young bartender he calls My Foolish Thing. My Foolish Thing pours him drinks and draws pictures on napkins in a genuine effort to get to know him. He replies with an impassioned attempt to complete the connection, but it isn't clear to him what, if anything, will happen. This is an honest and sobering account of living in a world meant for other people, and the truly heroic hopes that make that possible.’

James’ gifts as a writer are extraordinary. This may be new work and if so it holds promise of an author who will likely rise in the same realm and Jonathan Saffron Foer et all. Reading this book makes the reader love James Halat! Grady Harp, September 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.