Book Review: Blood-Drenched Beard
Another book, another dog involved.
Blood-Drenched Beard ended up in my hands like many others, delivered by UPS, usually in a box that formerly had eggs or other foodstuffs,* packed with all sorts of weird free ephemera and all from Dad.
I usually get one ofthese boxes every 3 months. No one reads like him, he loves to read, he hates the thought of e-books and he is running out of shelf space; hence the boxes. Make no mistake, we love the boxes.
Sometime in late 2015/ early 2016, amongst that seasonal box was this damn colorful book, with a small dog silhouette, by an author I had never heard. Upon confirming with him that, yes the box did arrive, he excitedly told me that I needed to read the rainbow book.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I meant to get on it, but the book sat on top of a pile with its summery cover taunting me with its promise of warmth.
After finishing The Man Who Loved Dogs I looked around for something else to read and grabbed this book. I did like it (more to come); but to skip ahead in the story a bit, I decided that my next book would be The Dog by Joseph O’Neil, an author who I have had good luck with. That book ended up being quite literally thrown across the garage (now the office). I just can’t read about ex-pats in Dubai and feel excited. This is probably that booked distilled into three minutes, you can save yourself some reading**
Back to what we are here for.
The story opens with a joke about faces and the narrator’s father detailing his upcoming suicide and the post-completion tasks at hand; including the fate of his old cattle dog (not good). The paternal line of this family has some issues, the last story from the old man is about his own father’s murder in the beach town of Garopaba.
After the funeral, our unnamed*** protagonist heads to Garopaba with all of his possessions and his (new) old cattle dog. Arriving at the end of the tourist season, he finds a place to live and starts asking around about his grandfather and begins to feel that there is a sinister underside to the town and can’t place why the shock of his face, which so looks like his grandfather’s, causes so much discomfort.
He makes a bit of a life for himself in the town as a fitness trainer (of sorts) and eventually begins to rehab the old cattle dog in the ocean where they swim together. The pace of the book moves quickly and you can feel the isolation and the sea coming together to have the suffocating effect on those who stay after the tourists leave.
The main character has the cognitive disorder, Prosopagnosia, where he cannot recognize faces. As he tries to figure out his family history, his grandfather and how to live a life different from the one he left in Porto Alegre he has to daily learn people by attributes other than faces. The mechanisms of how he does this are a fascinating thread through the book and show up unexpectedly in his relationships close and causal. As he learns more about everything, he realizes that what is real and what are the myths that make a man and place are knotted in such a way that the difference between life and a fever dream has the opportunity to reveal everything or submerge his conclusions further into his own subconscious.
I really enjoyed the book and my dad was right about it. The book’s resonance with me and my father is our common connection of a crazy paternal line (my grandfather on his side and back). As we work our way through a genealogy project at the Moon Casa, my dad has been very adamant about being left out this research. The mythology of our own family history appears to be quite mistaken, stopping at the craziness of the generations known personally. I understand seeing a reflection in the dented surface of assholes past makes it hard to believe that there is more there than what you know. And as the book concluded I felt, damn this could have happened to either one of us.
I didn’t even mention the gauchos, new agers, fisherman and weirdos that show up. If you have a shot this summer, or even better as the seasons change and the tourists go (from wherever you may be), this book deserves a bit of your time.
*When you have a buddy who owns a grocery store, you have to get the sturdy boxes from them.
**I was really sick, so that might be part of my anger, I really wanted to like this book, I did. I thought O’Neil’s memoir Blood-Dark Track: A Family History was fantastic and Netherland was a book I truly enjoyed. As he alludes to throughout the half of The Dog, I read, Dubai is like a shopping mall. I realize there is more, but the recycled air the story took place in was stifling.
***Our faceless character was Russ Bengston to me, if you know of Russ the phenotypical similarities won’t escape you.