Honeymoon and Other Stories
Kevin Canty

I read this whole book on the train to Seattle, sitting at a little, four-person train table with a grandma and two kids under 10. It was obvious when she talked to them that the grandma really did love the kids, but every 10 minutes or so she would threaten to smack them, or yell at them to shut up.

This was an interesting backdrop to Honeymoon, a bleak exploration of human relationships, where it seems no one really loves anyone. Kevin Canty's characters are consistently existentialist, meaning that they are alienated and alone in the world. They experience no love; derive pleasure only from the senses, and do not believe in social conventions or life after death. I find this philosophy fascinating, but also morbid and hopeless.

In most of the stories, the characters somehow confront death. In "Carolina Beach," a man goes away for the weekend with a lover who is dying of cancer. When she is in the midst of a spell of sickness, he is frozen, and can't be anywhere near her. When he thinks about sleeping with her, he becomes terrified; "Today or tonight he will look at the scar. He knows this all of a sudden, and it sends a panic through him, a physical panic that starts in his spine and ends at the root of his testicles. This woman is full of illness and death."

Similarly, in "Girlfriend Hit By a Bus," the main character feels only for himself, even though he's known his girlfriend since the age of six. He spends the day wondering why he can't muster any sorrow for her. Seeking comfort in physical pleasure, he reacts by calmly and purposefully seducing her best friend. It seems characters are unable to feel connected to anyone--they can muster sympathy, but not anguish.

"Aquarium" describes an aunt and a nephew who share a feeling of isolation. They can hardly even understand the words they say to each other, yet end up as lovers/junkies together. They annihilate society's sexual conventions not because they're in love, but only to make themselves feel important to someone.

Kevin Canty's distinct way of thinking is apparent in every one of these stories--and it isn't very optimistic. The book, however, succeeds wildly in the sense that it makes you consider your own emotions, and what causes you to feel them.