As a student of the MFA program at Tampa, I’m required to read so many books a month and the first book I dove into was Chris Adrian’s collection, A Better Angel. To start, let me say this collection is absolutely awful… in the best possible way. Every modern piece of literary fiction should contain some level of awfulness. I don’t mean quality – I mean subject matter.
The fourth line of the opening story reads: “…I am in fourth grade, and fucked up.” There are at least three stories that reference the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11 and a few that reference some form of communicating to the dead.
More than anything, what made A Better Angel extremely difficult to put down was that the majority of the stories are of children. The animal killing, the haunting mirror twin, the crazy teacher, the dead father… these are all the troubles of children, adding an unspoken tension and gut wrenching sadness. As a reader and compassionate human being, I want to take this kids into my arms, rock them and make them feel safe; but as someone that looks out for my own safety, I imagine I’d be too afraid of them to actually do so.
In A Better Angel, Chris Adrian manages to utilize the horror and religious genres without coming off as cheap or unimaginative. You won’t find a traditional angel nor a successful exorcism. You won’t find a ghost stuck in purgatory, only to finally move on. Adrian’s characters are forced to work within the boundaries afforded to them, and deal with the most persistent problem known to them: an unoccupied space in which something significant once existed.