Nathan Leslie, Three Men, 978-1945784064, Texture Press, 2017, 218 pages, $19.95
The title of Nathan Leslie’s book “Three Men” sets the tone for the entirety of the work. Leslie has written three novellas about three men who are seemingly unconnected but actually linked together by an overarching feeling of uncertainty. His use of an all-seeing third person narrator, while verbose in some instances, offers essential insight into some of the chaotic and almost paralyzing emotions his characters experience.
The first novella, Arrow East, the protagonist Sean is on a journey East with only the clothes on his back and a backpack. Along his travels he meets colorful characters, the majority of which end up letting him down in one way or another. Leslie’s almost painful attention to detail reflects some of the same thoughts and emotions a person actually traveling in this way would have. Sean’s fear of the people he rides with, the internal rationalizing and bargaining that occurs over whether to eat some of the food in his back pack or go hungry for another day, and his over compassing need to make it East are articulated by Leslie’s narration. The realities of life are embodied in the colorful characters he meets; the cheater with commitment issues, the drugged-up mother, the sneaky truck driver and the over joyed candy man in the pristine uniform. There is a new challenge for Sean around every turn and by the end of the work Sean’s desperation leaks off of the page. Though he is called as such several times, Sean is not a bum; before he sets out on his journey he says the option to call a friend was there but that it was an option he was unable to take; rather Sean has to figure out how to make his own way East. Eventually Sean is forced to confront his bout of self-induced isolation and the realization of the ephemeral nature of time becomes a tough pill to swallow. He should have gone sooner, he should have stayed closer, he should have never left; the weight of his choices cause him to part ways with the reader more broken than when he was first introduced-pleading to some higher power for more time.
The second Novella, Beach Day, follows Donnie an odd ball 20 something year old that lives with his parents and has a murky occupational status. Leslie has crafted a coming of age tale about a man well past puberty. The majority of Donnie’s inner monologs center on denying the perception of himself forged by others. His most repetitive sentiment being a defense of his nature, Donnie takes a blasé stance on the more important things in life and focuses more on being observant. Leslie’s writes Donnie in such a way that the reader is often left to question whether this is an adult man or a small child. When the fractures within his family become apparent while vacationing, the isolationist tendencies Leslie engrained in the first novella return again within the character of Donnie. He becomes like a child , meek and shy, when he hears his parents argue, and when confronted with the possibility that not everything is copasetic in his previously steady life. Donnie uses his beach vacation as a chance to reinvent himself, take on a new persona, but soon finds that no matter how he clothes his character it is much easier to face problems head on and not avoid them.
The third and final novella, The Janitor, follows August, the janitor at a Non-denominational Youth Center. August lives a simple life but that is loaded with regrets and missed chances. Leslie sculpts his narrative voice here in a subtler way than the other two stories as August is in his 60’s and able to look back with more scrutiny and insight on his past. The monotony of August’s everyday life is broken up by the introduction of a young man named Ryan who has an interest in baseball and is need of structure. The relationship between August and Ryan leads August to question what it is he hoped to get out of his own life and what he actually did. For the majority of his adult life August thought baseball was the only thing that had any sort of redeeming factor but he soon realizes that the small things he does every day which make the Youth Center’s inhabitants happier supply his life with meaning. This character’s voice is different than the other two in that it is mature. There is more finality in the ending that offers a closure missing from the other novellas.
Leslie withholds a satisfying or comfortable ending from the novellas. At first it is frustrating to not know or have that assurance but taking in to consideration the journey of self-discovery each of these three men have taken that frustration goes away. The three characters Leslie creates begin lost, for lack of a better word, but through trial, error, personal epiphanies the men are able to reach a place within themselves where their path is clear before them; they can walk it with a confidence that will persist through the rest of their lives. Though third person narratives can be repetitive in long novels, Leslie’s novellas were captivating and held a level of depth that was unexpected and conveyed well in the pages allotted; this was a good read and something I would recommend.
© Nathan Leslie and Caitlin Anderson
Nathan Leslie’s ten books of fiction include Root and Shoot, Believers, and Drivers. He is also the author of Night Sweat, a poetry collection. His first novel, The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, was published by Atticus Books in 2012. His short stories, essays, and poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines, including North American Review, Shenandoah, South Dakota Review, Gargoyle, and Cimarron Review. He was series editor for The Best of the Web anthology 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for many years. He is currently the fiction co-editor for Shale, also published by Texture Press and his work also appeared in The Best Small Fictions 2016, edited by Stuart Dybek. He writes a monthly music column for Atticus Review and is interviews editor for Prick of the Spindle. His website is nathanleslie.com and check him out on Facebook and Twitter.
Caitlin Anderson is a student intern at the Loch Raven Review and a senior at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where she is pursuing a degree in English Literature and History. She has done editing work with the Montgomery Country Recreation Department and the Loch Raven Review. Caitlin aspires to write and edit professionally.