Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives
In this, his first collection of stories since his celebrated, award-winning Last Days of the Dog-Men, Brad Watson takes us even deeper into the riotous, appalling, and mournful oddity of human beings.
In prose so perfectly pitched as to suggest some celestial harmony, he writes about every kind of domestic discord: unruly or distant children, alienated spouses, domestic abuse, loneliness, death, divorce. In his masterful title novella, a freshly married teenaged couple are visited by an unusual pair of inmates from a nearby insane asylum—and find out exactly how mismatched they really are.
With exquisite tenderness, Watson relates the brutality of both nature and human nature. There’s no question about it. Brad Watson writes so well—with such an all-seeing, six-dimensional view of human hopes, inadequacies, and rare grace—that he must be an extraterrestrial.
“[Watson’s writing] is a fusion of the haunting beauty of Southern Gothic, the hardboiled and wry humor of Raymond Carver, and the unfathomable depth of a Primo Levi… rendered in utterly
mesmerizing, limpid prose…. Mr. Watson’s rare talent shines and dazzles whenever he dives deep into the lives of ordinary people and comes up, almost effortless, with buried treasures that have blessed and cursed humanity: broken dreams, unfulfilled desires, [and] murderous intent.”
—Yunte Huang, Santa Barbara News Press
“Brad Watson’s stories worm their way through you. Watson’s talent is singular, truly awesome; he reminds me of Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Chris Offutt in his bravery, his unflinching willingness to look at what might set others running. And yet these are not exactly dark stories – that is part of their magic, they are infused with an uncanny beauty in which even at the most god-awful moments, something is salvaged.”
—A.M. Homes, author of This Book Will Save Your Life
— excerpts from Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives
They weren’t neighborly, of course, aside from Eykelboom himself, an only child, who tried to befriend the other boys, to no avail. His parents made no effort to help their son or to make any friends themselves. His mother almost never appeared outside the house, except for trips to the grocery store, and his father did only when he drove the dump truck to and from work, blowing his customized musical horn to announce his arrival, which everyone came to truly despise, or when he was mowing the grass on weekends. He did this shirtless, as if to show off his physique. He was tall, with a big rectangular head, a flattop haircut that wedged to a point over his small, square forehead, and droopy, arrogant eyes. Long loose limbs that looked apelike and strong, huge hands and feet, but thin and wiry legs as if he’d descended from a jackrabbit or some fleet herbivore. As he pushed the lawnmower back and forth across the grass, he sucked in his gut like a movie actor. You could always tell that it was sucked in because it wasn’t muscled, just smoothly concaved by the sucking. Eykelboom walked around doing the same thing, sucking in his belly, sticking out his chest, atop which stood the same long neck, slack face, flattop haircut. He was slighter and softer than his old man, gangly. He ran with his head thrown back, legs flailing, chest thrust forward as if to break the wire.
Eykelboom’s old man didn’t like Eykelboom much, either, which was a pretty awful thing, even to the boys. MORE
Here you can LISTEN to Brad read “Eykelboom” for The New Yorker
Ever since he and his wife had separated and she had moved with their son to Southern California, he’d flown out every three weeks to visit the boy. He was living the very nightmare he’d tried not to imagine when deciding to marry and have a child: that it wouldn’t work out, they would split up, and he would be forced to spend long weekends in a motel, taking his son to faux-upscale chain restaurants, cineplexes, and amusement parks.
He usually visited for three to five days and stayed at the same motel, an old motor court that had been bought and remodelled by one of the big franchises. At first the place wasn’t so bad. The Continental breakfast included fresh fruit and little boxes of name-brand cereals and batter with which you could make your own waffles on a double waffle iron right there in the lobby. The syrup came in small plastic containers from which you pulled back a foil lid and voilà, it was a pretty good waffle. There was juice and decent coffee. Still, of course, it was depressing, a bleak place in which to do one’s part in raising a child. With its courtyard surrounded by two stories of identical rooms, and excepting the lack of guard towers and the presence of a swimming pool, it followed the same architectural model as a prison.
But Loomis’s son liked it, so they continued to stay there, even though Loomis would rather have moved on to a better place. MORE