Solid Ground by Jeff McKown, A Book Review

I happened on Solid Ground by Jeff McKown purely by chance. It was one of those coincidences only social media allows, that my review on Letters to a Young Poet brought on.

The work was dreadfully beautiful. McKown finds the most ignoble traits within a person, and, instead of caricaturing them or forcing about melodrama, weaves a story exactly as it would have played out in everyday life. In doing so, he discovers the redeemable in those whose actions might not dictate redemption, at least from the more binary moralist among us. He delivers onto us a protagonist who, despite deplorable actions, is worthy of the reader’s rooting. The ultimate beauty of this story is that in its covering of real-life human tragedy, it does not result in unexplained miracles to defeat tragedy; the conquering of tragedy is left to messy human beings, as God (or perhaps nobody) intended. And all the characters in McKown’s work become beautiful within their own capacity because they were written completely and with an understanding that comes either through extreme patience or first hand experience.

It has been a long time since I have read a story that so thoroughly engrossed and emotionally invested me in a work, that when I read Solid Ground I was confused. My emotions overrode the typical responses I might have while reading, the normative intellectual fencing that comes with critiquing a work. The worked replaced all of this and placed me immediately in the place of a sympathizer, or perhaps a co-conspirator. This story was wonderfully layered with the tragic, the comedic, the desolate, and the hopeful, and it would have been a disservice to the work to have left out any of those elements. When it comes to human tragedy, these are the elements that we often see. Even in desperate hours, there will be things that at least make us smirk, there will always be a laugh waiting after the tears.

I found myself identifying with the protagonist Conor McLeish despite the difference within the things that ail us. I cheered for Conor with an intensity that I’ve never identified within myself, because rooting for Conor to better was, in a way, me rooting for myself to be better. Like Conor’s boyfriend Will was unto Conor, McKown was to me, through his depiction of Conor, a mirror in which I witnessed both of our struggles play out simultaneously. And at last, as I was hoping—some would say praying—for a happy conclusion, I found myself at the unexpected. And when Conor’s ultimate fall was imminent, the wind of the narrative shifted just a tad. This was not a miraculous intervention from God, but just enough for rescue; it was a human miracle. And perhaps it was the rescue that reaffirmed an important lesson. Even taken warts and all, there is still beauty in this life.

McKown’s work reminds me that maturity, despite all the baggage that it carries, vitalizes the writer who focuses on tragedy and drama. Without a deep maturity, tragedies become melodramas, tragedians become soap opera writers (don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with soaps, but they just have different form.) Thanks to McKown, I know that there is another avenue along which I need to grow in terms of a writer and as a human being on this Earth. And for that lesson, I am deeply grateful.

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