We begin in the dust of the valleys, in the long days and the sounds of your generations, digging and constructing and fighting, the hollow slapping of their fists against the meat if the men they beat into the dust. The stray dogs that lapped their spilled blood, while flies hummed and flickered along their mangy skins, their bulged ribs.
So begins The Alligators of Abraham, the debut novel by Robert Kloss and his second release from MudLuscious Press, which is surely the coolest press of its size and kind. My favorite, anyway, and this novel is their best. Not only is it my favorite book by MudLuscious or even my favorite book released in 2012, but it is my favorite thing I have read this year by anyone, from any time or place.
How the Days of Love & Diphtheria is a verbal assault and one of the strongest pieces of prose I had read in a long time. I read it a few days after meeting Robert Kloss at AWP and then I read it again on the bus home. Before meeting Kloss, I had no idea who he was but after reading How the Days, I knew I was sold on just about any words he was planning on putting anywhere. The Alligators of Abraham does not disappoint. The prose is strong and poetic and grotesque but it is also very readable. Where How the Days’ prose sometimes built a barrier between me and the narrative, The Alligators of Abraham invites us into this surreal nightmare of an America that was and was not.
The Alligators of Abraham is historical magical realism set in the lead-up to the Civil War and carried on through Reconstruction and into the 20th century. Told in three parts, it begins with realism and moves towards a world where hordes of alligators swallow america. While this novel begins as a Civil War novel, it is so much more than that. It is a story of father and son, of man and country, of money and power, of love and death, of death and living, of love and disappointment, and the lengths a son will go to be a man the father will look at. Of all that is in The Alligators of Abraham, of all the glory and awesome that I want to proclaim on its behalf, where it hits deepest and hardest is its examination of family, of father, of son.
I simply cannot say enough good things about this novel. Kloss is descended from the Faulknerian line of American prose rather than Hemingway’s, which is the rarer and infinitely more interesting one. This novel, The Alligators of Abraham, it will swallow you and take you and you will be knee-deep in this fever dream of America’s past and you will never want to let it go. Even when it hurts. It is the King James Bible dreamt by Cormac McCarthy, written by Faulkner, edited by Terrence Malick, and set in America’s tragic brother war.
This is the first of its kind by a man whose name will be a part of the American literary canon. You probably do not know who Robert Kloss is yet, but you will, and you will wish you could have been there at the beginnings, with the alligators and the Civil War.