King Shot Press, 2015
138 pages, $10.00, Paperback
REVIEW BY ALEX THOMAS
Troy James Weaver’s Marigold speaks to suburban depression and 21st Century existentialism with a fresh new voice. The novella focuses on a young man grappling with the issues of suicide and loneliness and their meanings in a seemingly meaningless society. The piece opens with an epigraph by Franz Kafka: “The meaning of life is that it stops,” a quote that fits nicely into the Kafkaesque search for meaning that is the driving force behind the piece. Marigold is Weaver’s third publication and is published by King Shot Press which produces what it refers to as “literature for the unheard.”
In Marigold, Weaver appropriately casts a protagonist that is not original but rather plays the role of the everyman; he could be inserted in any existential fable. In fact, Weaver seems to actively stray away from even naming his main character. But he quickly establishes the lead man as somebody who is frustrated with life’s ambiguity through prose like “these lines point us toward our menial jobs, our stupid Wal-Marts. The true rebels, the heroes to the causes of disorder and anarchy, are the martyrs who die in the easiest ways possible: accidentally.” This Meursault-like character works in a flower shop, which is a superb setting, where he encounters different people but unites them in their struggle to make meaning of the world and their own demise. These characters are also drawn very well, even though they are a bit clichéd. There’s the kid-who-twirls-his-hair, the woman who will die from skin cancer and the tough Hawaiian and all of them are locked in this vicious battle for meaning.
The theme of the marigold as a parallel to the human condition is revisited throughout the novella with pages bare except a sentence or two of prose dedicated to the flower. Weaver writes “Marigolds bloom from September to the first frost. Then they die and return to the soil, where they wait for the next September sun.” And then later, “Marigold florets are often mixed with chicken feed. Makes the yolks a brighter yellow, I’m told, for those who care for such things.” The marigold excerpts can be interpreted as chapter breaks but they can also be read as a reminder that life is shit, but it’s also kind of beautiful and it goes on. This may summarize the thinking of the main character, who at one point even says “I know life can beautiful for a lot of people, but not for me.”
Suicide plays such a large role in the novella that a fitting epigraph might have been the Camus quote “should I kill myself or have another cup of coffee?” There are a lot of darkly comic bits where the protagonist calls the suicide hotline and nonchalantly chats with the voices on the other end. About halfway into the piece, one of the workers at the flower shop kills himself and the protagonist is caught in the moment surrounding the incident. He muses, “he was more than a hair-twirling coworker, he was a human being.” But then Weaver brings him back to life for the second half of the text. The last few pages paint a beautiful picture of the meaning of life and the absurdity of suicide when the hair-twirling kid calls and Weaver writes “and suddenly I’m crying, too, and we are in this immense moment of existential togetherness, astray in the wilderness of being, but hand in hand.” He goes on to say “’Listen closely. You want to know the best way to kill yourself?’ He sniffs, says ‘yeah’ I tell him ‘that’s good I’ll tell you tomorrow.’” And there is the hard-hitting punch that the novella has been building toward, the coup de grâce. It’s the subtle call back to the marigold which, like life, is beautiful and meaningless and sometimes people care about it and sometimes they don’t but that doesn’t make it any less important.
Though Marigold is a strong work, it does almost feel like this has been done before since the theme of suburban existential angst is nothing new. But the power of the piece is in the presentation. Weaver pushes the text at us in short bursts. Rather than berate the reader with existential musings he presents us with a novella that, when considered as a body of work, is one large existential statement.