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The Barbarian Parade; or, Pursuit of the Un-American Dream
By Kirby Gann
Hill Street Press 2003
Paperback, $14.95 (245 pages)
ISBN: 1-58818-065-4
 
 
 

Kirby Gann’s fierce debut novel The Barbarian Parade opens in the small town of Montreux, Kentucky with the violence and virulence readers long for in modern Southern fiction.  The novel’s protagonist and narrator Gabriel “Gaby” Toure opens his story of life and death and sex and soccer with a scene of mayhem as Gaby’s father, an icon of masculinity, is injured in a train wreck: 

He turned away from the collision and gripped the steering wheel, clutching it until the impact sent him face-first through spraying glass, out of the car and into the air.  He missed the trees.  His body flew in a long grand arc that took him over the street to a gas station, where he bounced off the hood of an LTD waiting to be serviced.  He skidded to a halt on his belly, facedown; then he did not move at all.   

Invoking the images of the 1970s and 1980s while channeling writers like Harry Crews and Larry Brown, Gann’s novel tells the story of the young protagonist’s discovery of his own body: soccer and sex play off one another, each exhilarating for Gaby but each violent and destructive.  Gaby yearns for acceptance and camaraderie that he cannot find with an alcoholic mother, an absent homosexual brother whose “art” channels Samuel Beckett, and a father who cannot possibly live up to his son’s construction and idolization.  Exchanging his family for the soccer team, Gabby finds it to be an equally dysfunctional family as teammate Viktor Savic and Gaby engage in brutal sex with Lynette.  The flagellations of sex and soccer take their toll on the body, spirit, and reputation of the protagonist as the story comes full-circle with a return to Kentucky.   

Gann’s novel is structured around the recurring image of the family’s front yard maple tree.  It is an apt image of rising sap, danger, exploration, growth, and home.  The opening chapter, “House of Toure,” invokes the family plotlines that will continue to unfold in Gann’s novel and suggests a faint echo of Edgar Allan Poe as Gann’s “House” is at once the homeplace but also the generations of the Toure family—both home and family in Barbarian Parade are filled with an energy that makes them always on the verge of implosion.   

For its technical skill, creative use of symbolism and themes, and craft of language I recommend Gann’s novel to readers who enjoy their literature gritty.  Reading groups will also appreciate Hill Street Press’s addition of Readers’ Guide questions that will spawn literary discussions about life, love, loss, sorrow, pain, and the traumatic changes from boyhood to manhood. 

Kirby Gann lives in Louisville, Kentucky.  Gann played semi-pro soccer and is in the band “Jakeleg.”  His writing has appeared in The Crescent Review, The Southern Indiana Review, and bananafish: short fiction

 

Sean Wells
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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