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2018

NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

NEVER CEASING TO BE OURSELVES a review by Donna A. Gessell Kat Meads. In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These. Norman, OK: Mongrel Empire Press, 2016.

DONNA A. GESSELL has a PhD from Case Western Reserve University and is a Professor of English at the University of North Georgia, Dahlonega campus. Her scholarship includes work on Jane Austen, Flannery O’Connor, Iris Murdoch, and Judith Ortiz Cofer. KAT MEADS is author of sixteen books and chapbooks of poetry and prose. She has received numerous writing awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. A native of Currituck County, NC, she holds BA from UNC Chapel Hill and an MFA from UNC Greensboro. She currently lives in California, teaches in Oklahoma City University’s lowresidency MFA program, and is a member of the NCLR editorial board. Read the interview with Meads and her play Husbands Found Dead in NCLR 2009.

Kat Meads’s latest novel is as strong and savage as its title: In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These. Although the novel is her third one to be localized to mythical Mawatuck County, NC, its “irrevocable acts” loom larger than the locale to raise questions about the spiritual lives of people throughout the US. The novel’s epigraph by Joseph Conrad establishes the challenge: “We can never cease to be ourselves.” The language of the novel is as commanding as the title and epigraph. The narrative and the dialogue compel the reader through the story, which combines humor with pathos to reveal sublime moments of personal insight against the repetitive thoughts and actions of the Mawatuck residents stuck in their everyday lives. Having attended high school together, the novel’s key characters are all too familiar with each other, trapped by connections that paralyze, keeping them from moving beyond their embattled high school selves. The result is that these characters are largely who they are because of who they have been, suffering from unanticipated results of their decisions. Nevertheless, Meads’s compelling characterizations are profound and perceptive in capturing people we have met in our own lives. They perpetuate the stagnation of Mawatuck society, unwilling to change as the county changes, particularly because the alterations in its economy and land ownership, gentrifying a farming community into upscale investment opportunities, have robbed them of their potential selves. All the same, their small town and rural lives are still filled by the activities they have engaged in since their adolescence: drinking,

gossiping, shopping, hanging out, drag racing, partying, engaging in risky sex – all while drinking, playing amateur sports, followed by more drinking, and questioning their self-worth, which is based on how they think that others perceive them. The only changes in their behaviors are largely because, in addition to these pastimes, they are now engaged in work instead of school. Their jobs, however, are largely meaningless: boring because they are either dead-end, or interesting only because of the job’s potential for exacting retribution from others. The most despicable characters fall into the latter category; because of their newly achieved abilities to manipulate others, they have become the most successful, but only when measured in ways the new society values. In particular, Mickey is disturbing because of his greed, so rapacious as to become abnormal. In the relatively brief time since finishing high school, he has unscrupulously earned millions of dollars through underhanded land development deals, achieving the political positioning to be electable to county government. Instead of leveraging his advantage for good, he relentlessly uses it to retaliate against others for how he was treated in childhood by his parents and in high school by his classmates. Likewise, his secretary, Becca – despite her highpaying job and a secure future for her out-of-wedlock son – is compulsively manipulating others to avenge their high school judgments against her. Within this system of reprisals, we sympathize with the three characters who are their prey. With less-than-successful jobs and intact high school mindsets, the threesome is vulnerable both economically and psychologically.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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