The narrator of Sam Pink’s latest book, Rontel, makes it clear from the beginning what it’s like inside his head: “If people had access to my thoughts and feelings, I’d be asked to live on a rock in outer space—one with a long tether to a building in Chicago if any of my friends (just kidding) wanted to come visit.” But he’s so wrong. So wonderfully, wonderfully wrong.
In a style reminiscent of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, Rontel takes a look inside the mind of a twenty-something year old as he wanders aimlessly about Chicago. Sometimes he eats a sandwich. Sometimes he stares at homeless people. Sometimes he thinks about getting a job. Sometimes he adds “Let me show you how a real man (does something)” to his conversations because he doesn’t know why but it sure makes him sound a whole lot more like a real man. And sometimes he rides the train and reads the paper:
“I looked up from the paper and out the window.
Felt like my face was the ugliest melt ever at that point.
Like, the worst.
I felt so stupid looking.
Always felt ugly and stupid on the train.
Like almost, sagged.
Sagged out and sorry.
Sorry I’m so saggy, but I’m sagged out and sorry.
Suck my dick—I thought, addressing myself.
The train was underground.
I stared at the tunnel wall, and its lighting.
Thought about stabbing someone in the throat repeatedly.
Is there any way to do it except repeatedly.
Could it really stop after one stab.
I thought about stabbing someone once then just standing there.
Seemed like that would be worse.
What would I do just standing there after the first stab.
Would I talk to the victim.
If they said something to me, I feel like I’d definitely respond.
So I’d either have to stand there to make sure the person died or stab them repeatedly to ensure it.
Also, seemed like if I stabbed once then paused, it would be hard to get back into it.
It’d be like sweating in a shirt then taking the shirt off and putting it back on, like, fifteen minutes later.
Once seemed cruel.
That would be the worst thing to read: “Man stabbed in throat once, dies in alley over an extended period of time.”
Just get it done—I thought, looking back inside the train car.
Finish everything you start.
I’ma finish you, Chicago—I thought, feeling pleasure in my testicles from the shaking of the train.”
No man that thinks such thoughts should be exiled to a rock. We should be parading him around all of the town squares we possess and singing his praises.
Or we should at least call him up and say something positive like, “That’ll do, pig.” Something to that effect.
I say this because, on the surface level, this is perhaps one of the most mundane books I’ve ever come across. I mean it. He doesn’t do anything. He just sort of exists for 96 pages. However, we are given complete access to any and all of the narrator’s thoughts, no matter how pathetic, uninteresting, disgusting, or depressing they may be. And it’s hysterical. The book is absolutely brilliant, and you should really go and buy it right now. But make no mistake, these aren’t just the narrator’s thoughts. No, no, no, my friends. These are our thoughts.
At first, you almost hate the author for it. You hate him for even intimating that people could think thoughts like the ones above. But the book is so funny, you choose to continue and hope the narrator will redeem himself along the way. Needless to say, he doesn’t. In fact, he gets worse. It’s around this time that you find it harder and harder to distance yourself from the narrator’s hypnotizing honesty. Slowly, the disgust leaves your mind, and you begin to realize that these unapologetic thoughts are the redemption. You realize the character never required any salvation because there’s nothing wrong with him. He’s you and he’s me, and there is something so liberating about that.
This is the glory of Sam Pink’s writing. He drags us through the ugliest, filthiest parts of our minds and still manages, whether intentionally or not, to make us feel beautiful, still make us genuinely wonder at the dull, brief mysteries of our lives.
-Joe Masco, Assistant Poetry Editor