In 2008, I had the chance to hear Chris Bachelder read from a work-in-progress — a novel in vignettes about a professor living in western Massachusetts with his wife and child. I’d loved everything else that I’d read by Chris — especially his novel U.S.!, which imagines the writer Upton Sinclair living in a present-day America, where he is repeatedly assassinated and resurrected — and admired his off-kilter imagination, warmth, and pitch-perfect ear. These variables were present in the new work, but in different proportions than I’d seen before — the new vignettes were subtler and more restrained, and they seemed to take a different route to humor or heartbreak.
That reading stayed with me in the three years that followed, so my interest was piqued when I saw a listing this past February for a new Chris Bachelder novel, out on LSU Press, called Abbott Awaits. I immediately fired off an email to Chris: Was this the same book that he’d read from? Yes it was, he said. I ordered it, read it in a few sittings, and to my delight, found the promise of that reading now fully-realized. In story after story, Chris captures quotidian moments which, owing to his discerning eye and sharp wit, shine as stark and strange and amazing. Abbott Awaits isn’t a long novel, but it captures a larger slice of life than most novels that I’ve read — Abbott is, by turns, disappointed, miffed, surprised, and happier than he thought possible. At times, the narrative somehow conveys all of these emotions simultaneously.
In one story, “Abbott Hogs the Mood,” Chris writes: “A marriage, especially a marriage with children, cannot function properly if both its constituents are in foul temper, thus the Bad Mood is a privilege only one spouse can enjoy at a time. Who gets to be in a Bad Mood? This is the day-to-day struggle.” My wife read this book too, and now this idea is part of our lexicon — every once in a while, one of us will accuse the other of hogging the mood. To me, this is a sign of a great book: It not only nests in your memory, but weaves itself into your life, giving you language for something you already knew, and just didn’t know you knew.
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