In Walk the Darkness Down, Daniel Magariel (One of the Boys) introduces a couple separately torturing themselves through grief and eventually coming together again.
Marlene and Les, who live in a small, troubled town on the Atlantic coast of the United States, lost their young daughter years ago. In suffering, they mistreat each other. Les is a commercial fisherman on an offshore scalloping boat with a crew of other men; punishingly hard physical labor, camaraderie, and violence combine in a cocktail that helps distract him from his loss. Marlene drives the streets at night, mining memory, searching for the deep and searing pain that will help her remember. During his brief stays at their apartment, they repeat a pattern: Marlene breaks the bedroom door and Les fixes it. When Les is offshore, she picks up local sex workers and brings them home to clean them up and feed them. One of these encounters develops into something resembling friendship, just as Les's crew fractures and the dangers of his work increase. Marlene clips newspaper articles about freak natural occurrences: mass deaths of red-winged blackbirds and horseshoe crabs; new migrations of American bullfrogs; wildfires, droughts, and the widening of tornado alley. As their two lives approach new crises, Marlene and Les must chart a course out of self-destruction.
Magariel's prose is as quietly lovely and evocative as his subjects are bleak. "The woman settles into her chair, and Marlene proceeds to lay bare the details of her face. The worry lines of her forehead Marlene excavates with a pass over the brow." His settings showcase realistic detail, and both beauty and damage: fecund coastlines and wetlands, the harsh sea, an old family home, and garishly decorated working-class bars. Marlene and Les treat one another with alternating callousness and tenderness; Les's relationships, especially on the boat (with what Marlene calls his "other family"), reveal a memorable form of rough, ungentle love.
Relationships across great distances--physical and psychic--are a central concern of this novel, which is focused on how its characters handle pain. "You got to abide with your darkness as if it were a scared child that wakes up in the middle of the night and needs to be walked back down to bed," Marlene's newest acquaintance asserts, but each character wrestles with hurt in their own, often-wounding ways.
Stark and tragic, Walk the Darkness Down offers a harrowing view of individual and familial suffering--with empathy and, ultimately, with hope. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Shelf Talker: Grim but with a final upward turn, this novel of loss, grief, and strained bonds investigates human connections and disconnections.