Five Stars for Planet Grim – A Courageously, Brilliantly Truthful Book
Review by E. Thomas Behr, Ph.D., www.tombehrbooks.com
Alex Behr’s newly-published collection of stories, Planet Grim, is a stunning debut work by an important writer all of us should get to know.
Ernest Hemingway said, “A writer’s job is to tell the truth.” Easier said than done. The “Truths” of our lives typically change as we struggle along the path that life lays out before us. And along the way, we are assailed by self-doubt: “Is this the ‘Truth,’ or am just fooling myself? And how in the world can I know?”
So it takes great courage to live up to the challenge of “telling the truth.” In that regard, Alex Behr is one of the most courageous writers I have ever known.
Because she is writing at a painful time in her life, her “Truth,” as shared in her aptly-named collection of stories, Planet Grim, is hard, almost unbearably honest.
“I cry in therapy. Divorce is violent. My husband. A nice person. Except when he swears. Except when he looks at me sobbing on the chair, on the rug. Anywhere. Our house is welcome to all tears. Moths eat the felt pads inside the piano.”
And what wonderful writing! She is a magician with language, even if it often bites hard – even if single words, phrases, and images fall like hammer blows.
“My husband breaks a slat of the bed I grew up in. It’s a mahogany sleigh bed from the 1800s. The headboard is stained with handprint ghosts from our son’s dreams.”
Wounds bleed. They really do. Amputated limbs still throb with phantom pain. And a broken heart can still ache.
“I cut off my left arm with nail clippers. It hangs on. I can’t snip the final pieces of dried-out skin.
“The initial hurt: I saw it on my arm, too. “I’m in love with —.” A flap cut into the shoulder. The cuts extend on either side, forming a bloody jelly roll. Not till death. Till legal documents coming through the email.”
I’m considerably older than Alex, and so have endured and suffered more. In reading her tough, truthful narrative, I sense yet another, deeper truth: one can embrace love even when the pain is greatest.
Here’s how she ends her story “Wet.”
“My husband drives to the dump with the futon stained with pee and tears. He tells me he wanted to drive off a bridge. Two days later he leaves the country for a year. My son and I spin in our rooms. Two months pass. Then: snow.
“’Mom, come out.’ The son, twelve, shirtless, in shorts and sandals. He runs into the night, now white, like a healthy uterus, its tissue open to life. Flakes cover the harm: the cat’s grave, the thorns. The suburban failure machine. I laugh at the son for his snow dance, his delicious chaos.
“I make a snow angel. The metaphor fails. The son stomps it out. No angels here, so we raise our tongues to the stars: we taste what melts.”
This is important: wry laughter echoes through these stories. As Carrie Seitzinger, editor of Nailed magazine tellingly points out, Alex’s stories “ draw blood while making you laugh.” Just as tellingly, when you look at the cover of Planet Grim, the heart pictured on it is still whole.
Alex Behr’s writing is an invitation for all of us to fully embrace all of our messy, at times frightening lives − to live courageously in the face of our own “Truth.” All of us, I think, owe it to ourselves to read and get to know this extraordinary writer.
Finally, an essential disclaimer. My last name is, in fact a tip off; I am Alex Behr’s uncle. I’ve enthusiastically supported her career as a writer because I love her. As a published author myself, I also love brilliant writing. And that’s what readers will find in her newly published story collection Planet Grim.
So my standards in reviewing this book are the same that I apply to any writer (including myself). It’s an obligation I have to anyone who reads, and I hope, trusts my reviews.