Book Review: Hezada! I Miss You by Erin Pringle
Erin Pringle's debut novel is a circus of grief
Reviewed by Cat McCarrey, Fri., March 6, 2020
Hezada! I Miss You, Erin Pringle's debut novel released by local Awst Press, is bittersweet and dreamlike. It mourns – each word (even the hopeful ones) drenched in grief. Sometimes it's the ache of days going by too quickly or childish disappointment at wanting the sweetness of candy or another ride on the carousel. But other times are bone-achingly sorrowful, the shattering moments of untimely death or illness. In Hezada, even snakes are full of ennui, and the most gorgeously rendered scenes are undercut with a current of fretful doubt.
Hezada emerges after Pringle's two previous short story collections. She worked on it for 15 years, and her strength in narrative snippets comes through in gorgeously rendered small chapters. Ostensibly about a Midwestern traveling circus making the last stop of the summer in a small village, Pringle's tale is told in small glimpses. These stories are gripping, enticing the reader and building a full world in the type of insular society that most people ignore.
The village, much like the circus itself, is diminishing as time passes. There are few children. There are few jobs. Each character escalates in loss. Presented as hazy visions (or the creations of memory), circus folk and villagers experience loss of childhood, loss of livelihood, loss of family and hope. "The real Midwest. Cornfields, soybeans, sadness," speaks a village council member in the opening of the novel, a rumination on all the glorious Midwestern/human despair a story can offer.
Hope, and the lack thereof, is cleverly counterpointed with the aging circus, and the last few children in town. We see bitterness with growing old in one chapter and then sequences of the eternal possibility of being a kid – even if that possibility is circus tickets or the pool or a pair of red boots that might be yours. In Hezada, we circulate among odd yet familiar characters. There's the preteen twins Heza and Abe, whose mysterious progeny lies somewhere between the circus and their townie mother Kae. There's Frank, who ran away to join the circus and is now retiring after 50 long years. There's Hezada, the trapeze artist with cancer, the waitresses circulating in the lone diner, the circus boss, and the slew of hired "Summer Boys" helping the circus.
However, what begins as a Bradbury-esque meditation on the Midwest and the fleeting nature of youth takes a hard turn near the middle, where the stakes on loss become much more serious in the wake of suicide. I enjoyed the small town escapades, but Pringle's examination of the aftermath of a loss so personal and sudden takes Hezada into a heartbreaking and honest look at how people react to tragedy.
There are countless books on unforeseen misery, on loss from war and sickness and murder. However, in many books suicide is the twist, not the point. Halfway through working on Hezada, Pringle's sister committed suicide. There was always an undercurrent of death in "the circus novel," but her personal catastrophe brought the book into focus. For the last half of Hezada, suicide becomes the main character, and everything else serves as a study in response. It's haunting. It's lovely. It's an utterly painful and beautiful look at how life passes. Exploring the consequences of a suicide from those intimately involved to those on the sidelines, Pringle's unflinching view sets a summer circus as a backdrop for everything lost when life is gone.
Hezada! I Miss Youby Erin Pringle
Awst Press, 332 pp., $22
Erin Pringle speaks about and signs copies of Hezada! I Miss You on Sun., March 8, 5pm, at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar. For more information, visit www.bookpeople.com.