Spill Simmer Falter Wither, set in a small seaside town in Ireland, is the story of two outcasts: a socially misfit man and a one-eyed dog, who find — and bring comfort to — each other. The title is a descriptive word play on the four seasons during which the story takes place, and it sets the novel’s sad tone.
The book opens with a dog’s perspective: running wild, his left eye dangling from “some gristly tether.” And then we are inside the head of a man, peering in the window of a junk shop, noticing an ad from the local shelter seeking a compassionate and tolerant owner. The narrator, Ray, describes himself as a hulking man who lives alone in his recently deceased father’s house. He proceeds to describe his world and tell his story in first person present to the dog he adopts and names “One Eye.”
Author Sara Baume grew up wanting to be an artist, she studied art in college, and worked in an art gallery. It was when she started writing about art that she realized that writing came easily to her and was favorably recognized by others. And “Spill Simmer Falter Wither”, her first novel, is a work of art. Baume combines literature, music, and art in her writing. The sentences are meticulously and poetically crafted to evoke a certain lyrical musicality – a rhythm and sustaining cadence. Ray’s descriptions of his surroundings are like painting a still life in real time. Here is a simple, yet beautiful description of One Eye’s dish: “[n]ow the food bowl is the epicenter, to which the house is attached and everything beyond radiates from, like sun beams, like stingers of winged and boneless sharks…”
Ray’s outer self is gruff, disheveled, and anti-social, while his inner self is intellectual, compassionate, and sensitive. His house is full of stacks of books that he has spent his insular life reading. He notices everything from details about his surroundings to being curious about the motivations and thoughts of his dog and other people.
The story doesn’t have much of a plot, save for a dog fight that forces Ray and One Eye to flee town and embark on an aimless road trip and a slow unraveling of Ray’s history – how he was raised and how that affected him. The book seems to ask the question – what is a life? Is it outer focused: your achievements, the length and substance of your obituary, how others perceive you? Or is it inner focused and more existential: what goes on in your head, what you notice and pay attention to?
If you like gripping plot-based page-turners, this book is probably not for you. However, if you enjoy beautifully crafted sentences, a journey for a while inside someone else’s head and the healing companionship of a dog – I highly recommend this book.
Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, August 7. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, August 2 to discuss Spill Simmer Falter Wither at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.