Sunday, October 4, 2015
Come see Kevin Hardcastle read with Jess Taylor in the ebar Thursday October 15 at 7:00pm.
Full disclosure: I got to know Kevin Hardcastle a little bit in late 2012 when we were both shortlisted for and did not win that year's Journey Prize. He was the only other person at the fancy dinner and glitzy ceremony who seemed as uncomfortable as I was. It was the first time I'd donned the Ritz since some wedding I'd been to as a toddler and I got the same impression from Kevin. Afterwards, we got our commiseration on and on account of how much we drank – we were younger back then and the world was slated to end that December, so... – I don't remember all that much about the time we had. But I liked the guy. He was warm dude, passionate about his work, and equal parts nervous and chuffed about having that work recognized. I liked him even after catching him trying to secret an expensive bottle of bar wine out of my hotel room at the end of the night.
The three years between Kevin almost swiping a swanky wine and the release of Debris feels like too long, but the wait was worth it. In those three years, Kevin's been polishing his prose, building up visibility, plugging holes in just about every lit mag in the country – he even lost the Journey Prize a second time. The refinements aren't astronomical, or even glaring – he had he knives pretty sharp back in 2012 – but Debris reads all the better for time taken with it. There's a confidence and a consistency in the stories that's rare for first books. In a genre where it's easy for less-experienced, less-involved writers to hide behind the laconic cruelty of the subject matter – that genre being GritLit, or HickLit, or whatever you want to term stories about rural people and places – Kevin smokes an impressive amount of nuanced flavour into these tough, gritty strips of stories.
The fringe grittiness – shotguns and fistfights and lawns strewn with debris and detritus – will likely be the dominant talking point with Kevin's writing. Yet the refinement and delicacy of the seeing and telling that goes on makes for a stoic beauty that's the real success of Debris, is what seriously sets the work apart from whatever generic comparisons it will inevitably attract. The rural settings are not the mopey, lonely, objective correlative wildernesses described by Survival. Yes, all the fences are a bit busted and need painting, but that disrepair is just daily fact, not a metaphor for anything. The self-segregated isolation here is a sort of a proud heritage. Most importantly, Kevin's characters are not simply brutish dumb misfits, but men (mostly) and women driven by love and loyalty and duty in such a clear, unconflicted way that conflict is inevitable and intense. All of which is to say that, while the stories in Debris might seem like bummers on the surface, you'd be hard-pressed to find stories this loving, hurt, and alive in anything else coming out lately.
In a different world where Kevin had gotten away with that bottle of room wine and left me with a stupid expensive hotel bill, I'd still have to admit that he's a good guy who's written a great book.