The Death of Patsy McCoy by Levi Montgomery

“His death began the moment we saw him. It just took a long time to consummate that death. We began to kill him when we first saw him…”

The Death of Patsy McCoy (Inflatable Rider Press, 147 KB) is a story about a murder, but long before that, it was a story about suicide. The suicide of a small town, the suicide of a new kid seeking acceptance, and the suicide of five young men who would never be able to push aside memories left behind in their childhood, memories that are nothing more than the strewn wreckage of innocence gone lost.

I think what I enjoyed most about this novella was its non-linear plotting and the multiple first-person points of view. Each character as they approach us with their confession reveals only a small piece of the story, and that reveal is done through each individual character’s own idiosyncratic viewpoint. We know Patsy McCoy is killed; Farmboy tells us this on the first page, but we really don’t feel its full impact until we have heard the guilty pleas from each an every person involved, individually and in unison. And while the character Stud didn’t necessarily have a literal voice, his confession is probably the most powerful of all.

Our story of a sorts begins with Farmboy, the most even or rather normal of all the characters, as he is making his way towards his hometown, the small town most people abandoned when the mill closed twenty years or so prior. Farmboy and his misfit group of friends are all on their way back home to attend a funeral. We don’t find out whose funeral it is until much later in the story, so I won’t spoil it. The cast of characters in this novella might be a motley crew, but the jumbled mess of personality types is not uncommon for this sort of childhood cult, as I like to call them. We have Stud, the bullyboy, the leader of the group. Then we have his toadies: Farmboy, who is reasonable and level-headed; Spittle, who seemed slightly retarded; Babyface, the rapist and budding sadist; Bowels, the sensitive philosophically artistic type; and lastly Patty, Stud’s sister, whose own twisted back-story mirrors a sickening degeneration of the soul we would all prefer to believe isn’t possible in children. Individually, none of them has the guts to take action on their own. They all know torturing the new kid is wrong, but as a group, feeding off each other’s strengths, they manage to find a will of consensus fuelled by an acceptance they haven’t found anywhere else. This drives them into a frenzy, and their need to feel control over something, anything in their world leads to acts of domination by violence. This is some dangerous stuff. It’s the kind of psychopathology that breeds criminals, and that’s what makes this story so very relevant. It’s not just a story: this group dynamic exists, and we are seeing more and more of it these days in younger and younger kids.

Sensitive readers might find some of the incidents and the allusion to incidents in this story to be quite disturbing, and I think that’s what makes good literature. The idea we are confronted with here is an unpleasant one but one we, as a society, need to address before more children commit suicide because they are being bullied on social network sites, before more children aim to gun down their classmates, before one more Patsy McCoy dies at the hands of his would be peers.

This might be a short novella, but it packs a wallop. The writing is stellar, the plotting — cryptic — and each character bleeds such raw emotion onto the page, even when they try to hide behind their own bravado, that it gave me the goose bumps at times. Those who like their literature dark and relevant will just love this book. Some readers might scream for more action, but I don’t think it’s necessary for such a deeply psychological character study, and a thoughtful one at that.

Cheryl Anne Gardner, author of The Thin Wall (2009).

Excerpt:

Approaching your hometown after twenty years, to attend the funeral of a childhood friend, I guess your thoughts are pretty much destined to run backward. There was a time when I knew beyond any reasonable doubt that my life was going to be wasted. That it was, in fact, already wasted. I’d sit alone on the back porch, reading some crime thriller or space opera, and I’d feel all the same urges that have united sixteen-year-old boys since crime thrillers and space operas were invented. I’d be a famous detective, or a fearless astronaut, or a brain surgeon, or a quarterback; something, anything, if only I didn’t live in Bumhole, Kansas.

Fifty years earlier, a hundred and sixty acres would have been a lot of land. When I was sixteen, it was small enough my dad could work it by himself, just him and a few machines, and still work at the mill.
Twenty years sooner, and I might have been busy enough in the work of the place to have been ok. Twenty years later, and I would have had MTV and MySpace and Google to keep me company. We had neither, and we found our own trouble. That summer, we found Patsy McCoy.

His death began the moment we saw him. It just took a long time to consummate that death. We began to kill him when we first saw him, walking slowly up the road that led past Stud’s place, his eyes flicking away from us and shifting from bush to chimney to tree, and then flicking away from us again.

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