He Ain't Heavy: a review of Tom Piccirilli's "All You Despise"
Press (2010) 58
"Take care of your brother."
Those are the words pounding a drum beat
in the narrator's skull when he wakes up in his trailer one night to
find his drunken brother passed out on his couch and the grill of
their dead father's Mustang is spattered with blood.
Family is a funny thing like that. Reason
tends to get pushed aside when push comes to shove, and Tom
Piccirilli paints a portrait with this novella of two brothers and
the reckoning that is due to come, one way or the other. The title of
the story comes from a line near the middle of the darkly tinged
family drama: "I thought, all you despise, I cherish." The
brothers seem diametrically opposed in multiple ways, not the least
of which is that the narrator's life is in shambles following the
death of his wife, with bills and the like taking him out of his home
and deposited in a trailer park he feared as a child, as well as
forced to sell the almost mythic Mustang that rotted away in his late
father's garage until he restored it himself. On the other side of
this coin is his brother, Danny, who has the wife, the kid, the white
picket fence, and even bought back the Mustang. Kind of like an
unofficial passing of the torch between the two.
Danny is not a happy man either, though.
And when the narrator--he's never named outright, so I don't know
what else to call him--finds out that an old man was killed in a
hit-and-run the night before, he has a choice to make in that
instance. Follow his conscience or take care of his brother.
In fifty-some pages, Piccirilli manages
to shoehorn an small epic into this book. I could have spent a
full-length novel marveling out how beautifully he depicted a broken
and bruised family dynamic, but a quick, shotgun blast of a novella
will have to do. For as much as there is to admire in what Piccirilli
displays through his writing, there's the stuff left unsaid by the
narrator, only alluded to, that offers a great counterweight to the
story. Maybe that's what I want from a longer story, all that stuff
laid bare, but maybe some of the magic from this story would be lost
doing that. So, better left as is, I suppose. And that's alright by
It's not a happy story, I'll tell you
that right now. If you want redemption, you might be disappointed,
because the lines that the narrator sees ahead of him that need to be
crossed are not the kind that are liable to leave a reader feeling
more than a heartfelt sadness for where these two brothers have ended
up. Bah, happy endings are over-rated, anyway. The journey is the
thing, and the darkness wandered through in All You Despise is
its own reward, because at least you can thank whatever god you
believe in that you're not part of this family.