Review: ‘Hourglass’ by Keiran Goddard

hourglass

Hourglass marries poetry’s force with fiction’s straightforward gait, producing a universal, quietly heartbreaking love story. Made up of three distinct parts — the before, the during, and the after — the story dips in and out of time, illustrating the unnamed narrator’s entanglement with “the most beautiful thing” he’s ever laid eyes on. Not person, but thing, “which is a much bigger category.”

As a work marked by underplayed language and throat-punching imagery, Hourglass focuses on its symbiosis with the world of senses. As a result, we’re treated to prickly morsels of balled-up hair, the stifling odor of wet cardboard, shades of salt and vinegar on another’s tongue, and eye-tickling humidity, to name a few. 

Part of the reason for this acute physicality of being may be the narrator’s social awkwardness, which leaves him deciphering his emotions in ways others find repellent. His alienation breeds both anguish and a despairing sort of eroticism; and it seems most potent when pulled from the corners of his roving senses, “I ate one of the hair balls once. Just a small one. It tasted like you. Like the sheer fucking stun of you.” 

There’s an airless shroud of sorrow pulled over the text; one that tightens more in response to our watchfulness than the narrator’s withdrawn endurance. As he shrinks himself and spends “an entire day drawing a picture of [his] kettle,” we, too, begin to alienate ourselves from the rigid vernacular of wellbeing. Not only does it brutalize the individual, but proves impractical in the realm of concrete torment. 

And so, his experience of himself is allowed to branch out from the expected and the banal. His mother’s depression is, likewise, spared a succinct summary, both in her son’s memory and within the spaces of their fragile reality.

There is no judgment on the page, and none extends beyond its reach. This doesn’t apply to the clashes between lovers, however; the mind and its manifestation, the body and its mirrored potency. What we glean from this is a fascinating simplicity of both expression and feeling,

“The first time I ever saw you, you were bending down and picking up sunglasses. You picked up your sunglasses and I was in pieces.”

What brings it more prominently to the fore is the narrator’s uniquely childlike voice. It carries him to some obscure places, letting him vent the unthinkable. What makes him stand out is the kind of sincere reasoning that rivals any adult’s skepticism.

This earnestness, particularly in relation to the joint aspects of the human experience, is so disarming that it brings to mind Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon. Here, too, the narrator’s labors transform into a meditation on the incoherence of the mundane; a hazy, heady whirlpool of impulse and repetition. 

The text’s verbal replay signals a hiccup in emotion, ambient and unsettling. Dogged self-consciousness and dread further torch the coals of somberness in Hourglass, releasing the narrator’s panic over accidentally dismantling the fragile cosmos of his adoration. But there’s also undeniable humor mixed in with this discovery of his limitlessness. It’s as startling as a sharp intake of air, or a kick to the shin that misses all the nerves.

It’s no surprise, then, that we invest more and more of ourselves into his form as his breakdown intensifies. And so, alleviated by its poetic resonance, the echo of feeling finds its escape, “I remember that your skin was tight over your muscles. As if your skin was worried that your muscles were going to leave.”

Goddard’s work is so zany that it proves stimulating, so fresh that you walk away with a newfound thirst. While the characters and the trails they leave along each other’s senses seem too archetypal to feel grounded, this elusiveness might be the very sacrifice needed to unshackle Hourglass’ universal appeal.


Publication date: February 14, 2023 (Europa Editions)

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