“Book Review: Whiteout Conditions”
Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
How far will you go to stop feeling?
Like a poetic venture through the stubborn feelings of men, this short debut novel from Tariq Shah takes an uncomfortable look at loss, grief, and the lengths people go to avoid feeling pain.
When Ant hears that his childhood friend has been killed, his first instinct is to attend the funeral. Though he is a distant friend at best, he proceeds to include himself in this grieving time, the way he included himself in the funerals of many other people throughout his life. But with this journey to his hometown with an old friend Vince, Ant must traverse through whiteout weather conditions toward a world he tried to leave behind.
We learn from the beginning that Ant feels uncomfortably drawn to funerals, intent on finding pleasure in all the things you’re not supposed to focus in on. He has been generally unfazed by the usual sadness at funerals, due in part to his focus on a number of small details. He’ll keep an eye on a passing jogger gawking at the scene, a stoner altar boy, or a tribute song being sung by someone who cannot (and should not) sing. For Ant, these are the things that take center stage at funerals.
As readers, we’re left wondering whether his past — filled with the losses of nearly everyone he loves — is on the verge of boiling over or if he’s simply just out-of-touch and incapable of feeling altogether. We flip pages, searching for the answer to if this trip will be the last straw for him, the one that breaks the camel’s back, or if it will just be another addition to his previous pile of straws.
“How good it feels to have nothing to fear, nothing tender left, not a single weak spot, to understand that you are soon to be what the miserable world dreads and teaches its children to beware.”
Author Tariq Shah does an excellent job of peeling back the thick layers of Ant’s and even Vince’s grief. The way these characters express their emotions is often vague but overwhelmingly human, as well as stereotypically masculine. Ant never misses the opportunity to make light of something serious on his way through Illinois. So, with the heaviness of a death looming in the background, this story begins to take on an almost comedic ignorance of the truth. It might seem uncomfortable to laugh at, but I sure did it anyway.
Despite his generally grim viewpoint, Ant is somehow still a pleasant main character to follow around. We grow close to him thanks to his smooth first-person voice and often beautiful narration, even when pondering depressing things. Shah paints a vivid picture of someone who, upon meeting them, you couldn’t expect to have encountered such prolific loss in their life. A deeply depressed person is replaced by something a bit scarier, a person refusing to feel any of it. You’ll read it on pins and needles like I did, waiting for the implosion.
Whiteout Conditions is a terrifically quick read and perfect for those interested in tackling repressed grief. My heart hurts a little after reading it, but I’m into it. And I think you could be too.
Paperback: 114 pages
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
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