I’ve seen Rob Roberge’s name floating around. He would pop up with names like Danielewski, Palahniuk, and King. He’d be included in a list of finds, or maybe as that extra something to get free shipping. I didn’t avoid Roberge’s work or forget about him, he’s always there in purchased lists or grouped with like-minded authors, themes and tones that fall under the same literary hues on the color wheel of bookdom. Because I bought Dermaphoria a few years ago, I was told then that I might also enjoy More Than They Could Chew: A Novel. I looked at Lunar Park, eventually bought it, and I enjoyed every page. By the by, Rob Roberge.
He hadn’t been left on my door step or passed through the doors of a bookstore with me, because there was always something immediate, something more intriguing, and when you read as slow as I do, you have to pick and choose. However, in a recent interview with Booked Podcast, Craig Clevenger remarked on a change in Roberge’s writing with his latest effort. It is a change that inspired awe and left Craig wondering who broke Roberge’s heart, especially since Rob is happily married. With a reaction like that, I could no longer go without taking Roberge lovingly into my read-hole. With little more than Clevenger’s kind words and a long-lasting knowledge of a writer’s name, I bought Working Backwards From the Worst Moment of My Life.
The book is a collection of short stories, first of all, which for whatever reason surprised me. I’m not sure why, I guess I was expecting a novel. That is how blindly I bought this book. The title inspired a hope, or maybe a belief, that this was going to be one story about some poor sap with some soul-sucking bad luck. Rather, a whole cast of characters live and breathe in these pages. Even in the shortest of stories, Roberge drives home words on a page so that they climb out and sit beside you. They smell, you can hear them scratching while you flip the page. They raid your fridge and play fetch with your dog.
The story opens with a character charged with the task to throw eggs at his mentally challenged brother like he were a carnival game, every time yolk exploded on him, he turned around and walked the other way. That story sets the tone for the rest of the book. It isn’t going to be happy. There won’t be a tale that doesn’t get touched by the deranged acts of life, fate, or love. The tragedy that blooms here is life. All of this is real, all of this can be true, and Roberge’s writing taps you on the shoulder, waves at you with one hand, and reaches inside, griping at your heart with the other. His words squeeze, the language grips, and the characters exist inside of you until you’re mush between his fingers. These characters exist inside of you on the worst days of their lives, the pest exterminator, the narrator that watched his father kill someone, the home-bound injured man wondering why his wife hasn’t left him yet, the ex-child star on his way to score pain pills. They walk around inside of you until you no longer know if you’re one of them.