Thursday, March 21, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 17

Melinda Moustakis on Hugh Sheehy's THE INVISIBLES

In Hugh Sheehy’s beautiful and heart-haunting collection The Invisibles, one is constantly reminded of the problem of seeing—of not being seen, of wanting and not wanting to be seen, of being seen by the wrong people. The image of a scarecrow makes an appearance in two stories, and rightfully so, for like scarecrows, many of the characters here are isolated and lonely, and at times, powerless to defend themselves or those around them from danger. One doesn’t see real scarecrows out in fields anymore, but this book suggests that maybe we haven’t been looking for them and they’ve been there all along. Sheehy’s Invisibles are shadow-creatures, doppelgangers, adolescents, the teacher who becomes trapped at school during a snowstorm, the former sorority girl on the run, the addict on his way home to see his family after two years, the surfer who lives in a trailer near the beach.

Basements, too, appear in multiple stories, as places of private pain that become public when it is too late, or reminders of buried feelings, or places of entrapment, or of the unthinkable. In “Meat and Mouth,” the first story in the collection, a teacher and her student are locked in a basement after witnessing a murder. For all the gruesome details, the harm and the cruelty depicted, there is an equal measure of tenderness in the book. Which is refreshing and honest and admirable. Those that disappear are given their due. As are those that remember the missing or the deceased. And even those that are on the verge of losing it, of committing some unspeakable crime, are shown in their tragic cloaks. There’s a keen sense of smallness and being overwhelmed by the world for all of the characters, as if they were cut from the same invisible cloth.

Sheehy has written an elegiac and elegant book about quiet sorrows, but the writing here is not quiet. His prose is full of energy and exactness and suspense. The book captures many different perspectives with ease, such as Wheeler, the narrator of the story “A Difficult Age,” which begins: Look at it this way. Fourteen years old and I stand six feet two inches high, a lummox with charm like the muttering lord of the dead. Last summer most of my mom’s breasts were removed, which is no excuse, though it is a reason why I began to hate everyone. She shed her hair, I grew mine to my shoulders and dyed it black (128). Or that of newly pregnant Hazel in “Henrik the Viking,” which begins: Six weeks, seven. Perhaps one-third of women experienced bleeding or spotting during their first trimester. About thirty percent of them miscarried. This last fact should not scare them…(73). The tension in these stories is palpable and taut, often beginning in the first paragraph of the stories.

For being so forgettable and overshadowed in their daily lives, the Invisibles were quite unforgettable on the page and in my mind. They seemed to creep their way into my life. I was mostly finished with the collection when February 14th rolled around and I wondered what the Invisibles would do on Valentine’s Day, and I shuddered to think of how the holiday would remind them of their loneliness. Which is to say, their world became my world, and that’s the biggest compliment of all.


Melinda Moustakis is the author of BEAR DOWN, BEAR NORTH (2011). It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and the Washington State Book Award. She was named a 2011 "5 Under 35" writer by the National Book Foundation and is currently a 2012-2013 Hodder Fellow at The Lewis Center of the Arts at Princeton University.