“We don’t know what else to do,
So we keep doing the same thing over and over again
that anything is ever going to happen.”
Mike Steeves' novel, Giving Up, is a lesson in the superfluous. What would this downward fall look like: failure of giving up on something that you currently believe to be the reason to wake up every day? How does it affect the people around you?
I loved and hated this book, as it grappled between scenes of incredible clarity and insight, as well as depictions of uncertainty and unnecessary obscenity. Throughout the novel, I resorted to laughing aloud, as Mike Steeves’ writing demanded that one look inward and toward a self that may be intentionally hidden from ego while also forcing one to reevaluate one's own truth. These moments of insight into the human psyche occasionally left me speechless and needing to separate myself from the text; this often led me on long walks, during which I could think only about what I had just read. Each of these moments were followed by a near-crippling need for Steeves to rush the reader back into a materialistic and somewhat dark reality.
Mike Steeves’ exercise guides the reader through three parts:
The first is from the vantage of James, who has spent the vast majority of his life working in the basement on a project of incredible importance that would undoubtedly change the world, a project of such ingenuity that its greatness is seen only once—or twice—every couple of centuries. However, James is stuck in a lull and questions his ability to proceed toward a life’s work that, he is beginning to feel, he has neither the time left nor the genius required to pull off. “One of the reasons (I suspect) that I decided at a very early age to devote myself to a goal that I would most likely never achieve ... was that by making this choice I was absolving myself of ever having to make a choice again.” During this period of skepticism James seems to rediscover something about himself when, on a long late-night walk, he is confronted by a very unusual and captivating character who has an astonishing and commonly imaginative story to tell, at the beginning of which James had “... no doubt in my mind that I was being approached by someone who was after my money.”
The second is from the vantage of Mary, James’ wife, who has been supportive of his life’s work long enough to realize that James all but hates every moment he spends down in the basement, and that he has developed a certain resentment toward himself and a life that they never had. Mary's impatience is minor, however, in comparison to her aspirations, and at times, obsession with getting pregnant; more difficult than either James or Mary expected the process to be, they establish routines that seem to bear only annoyance and further Mary’s impatience toward James’ shifting attitudes. “It’s like I forget who I’m talking to. No, it’s more like I think I’m talking to a different ‘James,’ instead of the one that I’m actually talking to, and I end up saying things to the imaginary ‘James’ that the actual James probably shouldn’t hear.” Even this passion takes a back seat when, one evening, while James is off on a long late-night walk, Mary is met by an unexpected visitor, who unwittingly offers Mary a motive to rethink her role in her life and dreams.
The third offers a combinative vantage: a narrative emulation of both James and Mary. This narrator seems to have been birthed as a result of the mutual—but individually speculative—misunderstandings that both James and Mary have due to years of non- or mis-communication with each other. James feels he can finally open up to, and share, an aspect of himself which has remained concealed; he believes this epiphany can change everything between the two of them. “This is what my life’s work really is, an elaborate denial of what he really is.” Unfortunately James’ intention is convoluted and ravaged by the very means from which he came to grasp his revelation. Mary, unraveling from the late-night aforementioned unexpected visitor, is bamboozled by James’ behavior after he returns homes with an inconceivable story, though in his story there are undertones of remorse and optimism.
In short, if Mike Steeves’ first novel, Giving Up, doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. This is a novel of unrelenting relatability, truth, contravention, hope, loss, and usefulness. Within these 216 pages, the reader may be forced to accept the dark side of her/himself, and the society from which s/he was contrived. I can see myself returning to this book once a year, every year, for the rest of my life, as a lesson in deniability and a charge to recognize something in myself that I would otherwise audaciously neglect. I both commend and condemn Mike Steeves and his novel, Giving Up, as a testament to moral values and of modern society’s indistinct appraisal of relationships ... of a marriage's abashing decree of cruelty and devotion. Read Mike Steeves’ Giving Up. You may regret it, but only a little, and for all the reasons that make this novel worth the time.
Bonner is an author and writer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who has been writing for the better part of ten years and is aiming to release a collection of short stories in Fall 2015.