Marigold, by Troy James Weaver. Portland, Oregon: King Shot Press, March 2016. 138 pages. $9.99, paper.
For the depressive, a bouquet of blooming roses is more for funeral arrangements than Valentine’s Day, and every moment is a gateway to a bleak eternity. Troy James Weaver evocatively captures the sense of otherness lingering on the borderlands between life and death in Marigold, an impressionistic chronicle of a florist’s suicidal ideation.
As if unraveling a whodunit where both criminal and victim are the same person, we’re privy to the dark anxieties and suffocating fantasies of the book’s narrator, who has a wife, acquaintances, distant parents, all the kinds of relationships that feel familiar. Weaver slowly reveals the protagonist’s biographical details over the course of the book, reflecting not only the ways we get to know people but the ways we don’t. Snippets of personal history come floating to the surface, but we rarely see the depths where they were born. In this age when chronic, public over sharing has the vicious commitment of a rugby match, it’s a mysterious pleasure to uncover someone piece by piece, and even then not completely. A coworker could be a murderer. A spouse could be contemplating self-annihilation.
Like all of us, the florist reflects on the quotidian—“This woman I work with will either die from skin cancer or a barbiturate overdose … We’re taking bets out back, during our smoke break”—or the easy comfort of a well-worn relationship—“When I get home and see my wife, things go warm, and everything that came before recedes”—but these are just the mundane ground for the darker blossoms in Weaver’s lyrical collection.
Each page is a single lightning flash into a skillfully obscured present, a series of economic and impactful chapters sometimes delivered in one sentence and other times spooled into a paragraph or two. Regardless of length, many have the ring of poetry, and each offering is a complete piece standing on its own aching feet. Don’t let the work’s Zen-like efficiency catch you off guard, though; there is a story, of sorts, although it’s more a series of repetitive occurrences, a reminder of the thousand grinding banalities we suffer and laughably call success. In Marigold, the red numbers of an alarm clock become harbingers of existential terror. Coworkers’ inane chatter sounds like the gibberings of people from the foreign land of the pseudo-living.
Weaver’s tone seamlessly shifts from sardonic to philosophical, a feat helped along by the book’s spare construction. Often in one sentence, he deftly braids together sorrow, irony and social commentary:
I dial up the suicide prevention hotline, get a busy signal, and wonder if that’s a sign of the times.
Some of the book’s blackest humor appears in the narrator’s repeated calls to the hotline, which is staffed by a rotating cast of inept personnel:
Fifteen minutes left on my break, I dial up the hotline. I get Becky on the other end. Becky tries to sell me on how my life is worth living, even if sometimes it feels like it’s not. I ask her what she had for lunch. “Ham and Swiss on rye,” she says. “Just like Bukowski’s childhood,” I say. “Thanks, but no,” I say. “I’d rather eat a short rope with a side of tears.” She doesn’t laugh like I do.
People down in the depths of hell have a certain sense of humor that mixes devastation with wit, and those bobbing on the surface just don’t get it. Later on, after episodes where the narrator is on hold for an hour (an occupational hazard, one would think), he calls up the number only to hang up and burst into tears. Just when you think he’s pulling through into some functional sense of distanced sarcasm, his suffering lacerates the bravado and reminds us this is no comedy hour.
If there are any misfires in the book, it appears in the intersection between tone and audience. Anyone who has looked down the barrel of a gun or heard the siren song in a kitchen knife’s glint knows how true Weaver’s account rings, but for those who haven’t, Marigold sometimes veers into the self-indulgent:
It’s Halloween and my face is painted like those dudes in Black Metal bands. Skull on flesh, inside out, the way it should be, showing only the core, indistinguishable from the other skeletons – here, now, always your servant soon covered in dirt.
If that’s your personal context, this book is for you (although make sure your own hotline is better staffed). If that’s not your daily bread, you might be tempted to say, “Get the fuck over it” and put the book down, but ultimately you’d be making a mistake. Even inside the monotony of the narrator’s black outlook, there’s a journey to be taken and a transformation to undergo.
One of his coworkers is a young kid who serves as a youthful reflection, another depressive, but of the bombastic early-twenties variety. As if he’s hailing the narrator from his own past, the younger man is someone who also struggles with Camus’ only philosophical problem, and our protagonist finds himself in the unlikely position of suicide prevention counselor. Of course, he has no answers, nor perhaps can he ultimately stay the younger man’s hand or his own, but in the bleak landscape of despair, it’s clear that a fellow traveler is something worth living for.
Greg Marzullo has studied world mythology and religions with Tibetan dharma teachers, shamans, witches, mystics and yogic scholars for over twenty years. Having worked both as an award-winning journalist and a yoga teacher, Greg continues to be spellbound by religion and the idiocy it evokes in its adherents. For more of Greg’s writing and thoughts, you can purchase his book Bad Yogi: A Guidebook for the Rest of Us at Amazon, follow him on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.