The Midwest of America is founded on disrespect and environment damage. In the the late 1800s capitalists found out there was coal and other raw materials in the ground to make iron, tires, rubber, you name it. The capitalists built giant factories and steel mills along rivers and poured the toxics from the factories into the rivers. In less than a hundred years industrialization had destroyed what millions of slow evolution took to make.
The difference between the Midwest and say New York City or Boston or the American West is that people came to the Midwest often from struggling areas of the planet, the Italians came to escape Mussolini’s fascism, eastern europeans to escape the Soviet Union and abject poverty. And African-Americans left the horrors of the Jim Crow south to find work. This is very different from the dreamers who went to Boston or NYC or to the American West. The ancestors of the Midwest are commonly people trying to escape horror, and probably suffering from PTSD from the terrors they experienced.
In Walls Andrew Worthington starts off painting us a picture of industrialization and its decaying infrastructure, the reader will probably react with, “What,” but to tell a story about the Midwest, the reader has to know that a monster once tore through the land and left it in pieces, but humans still live there, living, working, eating, trying to have fun amongst the ruins.
The story concerns Tom, a young man in his mid-twenties. He has gone off to live in New York City and has a boring job working for the local transportation department. He needs to go to the dentist which leads to him returning to Ohio after two years. The crux of this whole novel involves a dentist appointment, but in the novel we never see him go to the dentist.
After Tom gets off the airport from New York City we meet Tom’s parents, the dad is a typical Midwest Baby Boomer, it is hysterical to me: the dad immediately starts talking about how he can’t retire because he needs money, soon after the dad talks about property values, which is an obsession with Midwest parents, property values! (Midwest white baby boomers are obsessed with property values because they think it symbolizes how awesome they are at being human, but it doesn’t, it symbolizes a racist white hierarchy of made up ponzi scheme bullshit but Midwest parents pray at the altar of sitcom nightmares and cable news absurdity. If you asked a Midwest baby boomer if they would like a vacation to Machu Piccu, a free Zen retreat to the Rockies, or a $10,000 raise in their property value, they would pick the imaginary $10,000.)
Walls is a fragmented novel, going from Tom’s childhood to Tom in college, to Tom in the present, to Tom working at a grocery store, to Tom in a mental ward.
The scenes in the mental were original in the sense that they showed life in the mental ward to be boring and not even awkward. There is a scene in the mental ward where Tom watches TV and a woman comes in and talks about her daughter, Tom responds and the woman leaves. No crazy antics or long speeches of sorrow, just the goofy life of a mental ward.
There is a scene where Tom goes on several dates with a woman from work and then it just ends because of really no reason. There is a scene in a car where the woman just says, “I don’t want a long distance relationship.” But Tom is only moving two hours away. It shows very nicely the complete meaninglessness of dating in these times. Fifty years ago people in the US would just marry the first or second person they ever kissed, 150 years you had an arranged marriage or whatever other gendered person lived within a day horse’s ride of your house. Now we have endless meaningless dates ending with wackiness.
At one point in the novel Tom is a little boy and goes to the principal’s office and a teacher tells him, “I see a guy before me with so much potential,” then says, “But you’re just wasting it all away. You have no ambition,” I think Tom is like ten when someone says that to him. Why would someone tell a child that, but people do, people are always up each other’s asses about ambition. Tom grows up anyway even though he has no ambition, he ends up working for the transportation department and living in New York City and smoking weed.
Walls offers no clarity, the book is fragmented but none of the scenes foreshadows or explains the other scenes, everything just happens, that’s all. What happens when Tom is little has no effect on what happens when Tom is older, there is no God or destiny or magic in life, people are there and sometimes they are there, and while they are there, they interact with what’s there. There is no sentimentality, no violence, no amazing love or breakup scene, no reconciliations with unloving parents, no cancer ward scenes. The Tom character isn’t manly or facing his demons, he just walks around, hanging out, finding stuff to do.
The book is pretty funny.