December 2003

Jessa Crispin

fiction

The Week You Weren't Here by Charles Blackstone

Hunter Flanagan is the remarkable creation of Charles Blackstone’s The Week You Weren’t Here. A neurotic, scathing creature, Hunter writes out his catalog of women. There’s Jessica the actress, Hilary the cheater, Kate the graphic designer, Helaine the former obsession, Lila the sorority girl, Eileen the “defect,” Colleen the dead girl, and on and on. You have to start a list or a flow chart to keep them straight. Hunter floats through these women, seeing four or five at a time, rarely delving much deeper than a few dates. Instead he puts them on a pedestal and watches them fall.

Hunter seems to be analyzing every aspect of his life, but really he’s just skimming the surface and picturing himself the way he wishes to be seen. On page 56, it is revealed that Hunter is not the dirty old man he’s written to be; he’s only 24. Blackstone writes Hunter with such a weary, seen-it-all voice it’s almost hard to believe. It’s mostly a put on, his constant fatalism. He is so lonely, so rejected, such a failure with women. Yet he’s juggling women and forever going on first dates. It’s not that he’s a failure with women, it’s that he fails to see them as full human beings. To him they are a collection of their attributes.

The style of the book invites the reader to psychoanalyze Hunter Flanagan. When he confesses he lives with his mother but she fails to appear in the novel, the reader wants to sit him down on the couch and ask, “How’s your relationship with your mother? Interesting. Does that relationship remind you of your treatment of any other women you know?” The book is written in third person, but Hunter is the only focus. The sentence structure of the book is as twisted as Hunter’s mind. “She’ll be so fucking moved by how totally depressing sad ruined dejected trampled upon I am that she’ll want to –“ he writes before zooming off onto another topic, the sentence unfinished. Also unfinished is his first novel, a book he hopes will help him get into a good graduate school. “He knew the manuscript needed some substantial editing. He wished not to have to be the one appointed with that duty…” His work is autobiographical, and there’s something very telling in that statement. He wishes to not examine and dissect his work, just as he’d rather not examine and dissect his life. He is an unwilling therapy subject.

But surprisingly, Hunter invites sympathy. He does not treat women well, he blames them for his own failings (“[Kathryn] made him fail lab.”), and he actively despises a girl he’s leading on. Yet when Hunter himself is led on and dumped, the reader feels for him. Perhaps it’s that he is as quick to criticize himself as he is his women. Or perhaps it’s that for all his self-reflection, he is still rather clueless. Before a date he muses, “Maybe abortion and political parties and the death penalty would be good in-person conversations to have.” He keeps an impossible check list of attributes for these women and of course no one lives up to it. Blackstone gracefully keeps him tottering on the precipice between romantic hero and irredeemable cad. It’s a compelling balancing act to watch.

The Week You Weren’t Here is one of the first books published by the “ethical” publisher Flame Books. Blackstone is an original voice. If he’s indicative of the quality of work Flame Books will be publishing, they’re going to be a force to reckon with on the literature scene.