Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Kevin Scott Hall's A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir by Andrew P. Clunn

This review of Kevin Scott Hall's book A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir was written by Andrew P. Clunn and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir
Author: Kevin Scott Hall
Publisher: Wisdom Moon Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1938459245
Reviewed 7/16/14

A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir is Kevin Scott Hall's second book, and first non-fiction title, a memoir about his tumultuous relationship with his on-and-off roommate Maurice. The chapters often alternate, with sections chronicling Kevin's life before meeting Maurice, and others covering the progression of their relationship. Maurice is a troubled man, losing everything in hurricane Katrina, and Kevin intends to put things right. Of course Kevin is also troubled, and his drive to mend Maurice's life clearly has some roots in his own need for validation and direction. While the events of Kevin's memoir are tragic (drug addiction, AIDS, the loss of friends, and unprovoked violence), the real draw is in his reactions to them, presented in naked introspection.

There's a lack of pretense at internal continuity that makes this such an honest memoir. Many people pretend at being rational, claiming that the views they hold now have always been a part of them, hiding the conflict and uncertainty of their resolve behind retroactively constructed narrative. Kevin makes no attempts at this. He embraces his emotional fickle nature and lays it bare on the page. There's a passage where Kevin has had it with Maurice, when he was left to move apartments on his own while Maurice disappeared for a half week bender. He is done. He's tired of being used. Of being lied to. Of being expected to carry the weight of another human being unwilling to change and seemingly ungrateful for everything he's done for him. Then, within the same page, he reverses himself, knowing full well that his friends won't understand, but that he just is not going to give up on Maurice.

This honesty, about Kevin's failures, his personal tragedies, and the raw emotions that guide his choices make him a deeply sympathetic narrator of his own life. I found myself instinctively judging and scoffing at his decisions, but consistently disarmed by his frankness. "Going to New York to try to pursue a career as a performer." How naive, I thought. Then as he openly discussed the things he learned through his attempts at such a career, failures up front, I was left grateful for the lessons rather than condemning his choice. "Oh, you have a therapist for your depression. So now you're going to talk about how damaged and fragile you are, right?" Then he shared his story of being stabbed by a stranger on the street.

Granted, this infectious sympathy doesn't mean that I'd take life coaching advice from Kevin. The fact that the memoir so effectively made me empathize with him only heightened my frustration with his choices because I cared about the outcome. In some ways this allowed me to further relate to his relationship with Maurice. Here he was, knowing the plight of his friend, knowing he has it within him to be more than a victim of his failures, and yet helpless to change him or make better decisions for him. Less is expected of the reader by Kevin than of Kevin by Maurice of course, but there's a similar lesson. Another person's story is theirs to write, and your only choice is whether to keep participating by reading along. 

Were I a religious person, I'd likely have found this to be an inspirational work. Faith certainly plays a prominent role in the choices and outlook that Kevin has during his time with Maurice. For me though, I see it as a character study, an honest look at events through the thoughts and perspectives of the man who lived them, providing insight into a novel way of thinking. This is a book that made me feel as though I knew a person. It didn't try to make me like them, or agree with them, but just honestly let me know them. And I came away realizing that is exactly what I think a memoir ought to be. Worth reading to the end.

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