Buzzed Books #73 by Aurora Huiza
Patrick Nathan’s Some Hell
Patrick Nathan’s novel, Some Hell, opens with terrible secrets. Colin, a young boy troubled by his queerness, secretly watches his father hold an unloaded gun to his head and pull the trigger. Colin later sneaks into his father’s empty study, finds the bullets, and loads the gun for reasons he doesn’t understand.
The loading of the gun is akin to the way we stand on rooftops looking down dizzy at the ground below, confused by our impulse to jump off the edge. Colin’s father soon, inevitably, commits suicide with the gun that Colin loaded.
Colin is condemned to live with his dark secret. His dawning queerness is his second dark secret.
These hidden afflictions doom him to a painful adolescence and a confused sexual development. The family descends with Colin into uncertain, ugly hell, which causes it to fragment altogether. The people he loves leave, one by one. Colin ends up alone and under the perpetual “excruciating threat of being half-loved” both by his family, and romantically by other men.
The difficulty with the disintegration of Colin’s family is that we lose characters as readers. Many of the relationships that Nathan sets up in the beginning prove unstable. Colin’s mother sends his autistic brother Paul away to a special home, and his sister Heather runs away with her boyfriend. His best friend Andy turns on him after they have a brief sexual encounter, and we don’t see much of him after that. We lose any possibilities of seeing these relationships, and characters, develop further. As a result, we are stuck in Colin’s head for much of the middle of the book.
Simultaneously, we learn extensively about his mother’s equally uneventful therapy sessions. We often crave more real action and less psychology. Grief pushes people apart, especially when relationships are under pressure, but in the context of a novel, this stasis makes us lose momentum as readers. Depression is not in itself a dramatic conflict.
At the end of the book, Nathan sends Colin and his mother on a road trip, where they have countless dinners together and make jejune observations about life and travel. The introduction of strange divine intervention at the close of the novel is jarring.
Some Hell explores depression, suicide, autism and queerness with commendable bluntness and honesty. Some of the prose that Colin’s deceased father writes in his private notebooks is exceptionally striking. He predicts the family’s descent into hell. He overhears someone say they’ve been through “some hell” in a coffee shop and attempts to define it, musing that “perhaps it was some hell of many hells.”
Colin’s sister similarly predicts the family’s tragedy at the very beginning of the book, telling Colin coldly that he will die soon. “It’ll start to snow when it happens.” Colin’s foretold death is tied to his father’s death, which is a beautiful, terrible notion on Nathan’s part. Nathan creates a sense of foreboding throughout, and a central theme that loving is inherently destructive. He writes that Colin’s mother wants to grab Colin’s father and “tear him apart in her hands, just to bring him closer.”
Some Hell is uneven, but some of Patrick Nathan’s risks are dazzling and memorable, lightning flashes in a world sunk in depression and melancholy.
Aurora Huiza is from Los Angeles, California. She is an undergraduate student at NYU studying English and Creative Writing. She writes fiction and creative nonfiction.