Made to Break by D. Foy
Two Dollar Radio, 2014; 218 pp
Reviewed by Zach VandeZande
Two Dollar Radio’s motto is “Books too loud to ignore,” and that motto has borne out in each book of theirs I’ve read (for the record: Karolina Waclawiak’s blunt and delightful How to Get Into The Twin Palms, Jeff Jackson’s eerie Mira Corpora, and Grace Krilanovich’s gutterpunky The Orange Eats Creeps). D. Foy’s Made to Break is certainly no exception to the rule, with sentences on every page that are pushed so far past eleven that they begin to defy sense. In a way, it’s admirable: I’m all for go fuck yourself prose, the kind of writing that seeks to break the authoritarian, often sexist or classist rules of our language. The problem, though, is one of who the middle finger is pointed at: sometimes D. Foy takes his reader along for the ride, and sometimes it seems like we’re a secondary concern in his quest to shake the blood out of language, like his disdain is not for the established rules of sense making, but for us. Since the novel spends most of its time pushing on words as hard as it can, and since D. Foy, as it turns out, can push really, really hard, I had a hard time sussing out whether I was rooting for him or not.
The plot of the novel surrounds a group of friends—drunks and drug enthusiasts, all—who head up to a cabin during a violent storm to party away the fact that they’re getting to be too old to be partying away anything. Very early, things go terribly wrong, as a car accident and an encounter with a genre-tweaking drifter set the crux of the plot in motion: these people are trapped at the cabin, and one of them is badly hurt, and there’s a great deal of resentment and alcohol to go around. The novel skips back in time, and forward again, and generally plays loose with any rule of genre or plotting or sentence structure you can think of. Again: admirable, but problematic.
There was a scene in particular that troubled me far more than I think D. Foy intended it to, in which the narrator recalls being horrified to find himself in a (mild) sexual situation with a transgender woman. I understand the power of meanness, or blindness, in a character. I get why that’s both useful and true in storytelling. But in many ways I’m tired of it, especially this kind. I’m tired of transphobia that goes uncommented upon in characters, I’m tired of that Othering, and I’m tired of the casual slathering of hatred that gender normative people get away with when it comes to transgender people in this country. It’s unfortunate, because I get the impression that this was not D. Foy’s intent—in fact, I think, here and elsewhere, the novel suffers from the same kind of problem that Roger Ebert had with Fight Club, which is that everything looked so cool and stylish that people can no longer see that the story’s message is that its content is an awful way to be in this world. And I think the least I can do in the face of this is to say that transphobia is in the book, and that, in my reading, it goes uncommented upon or uncritiqued.
And that seeming obtuseness runs throughout, but again, I’m willing to give D. Foy the benefit of the doubt here and say that my reading of him missed something, or something doesn’t click between us. There’s a point early in the book where a character picks up Hunter S. Thompson and quotes the beginning of Fear and Loathing. It’s a deliberately self-conscious scene—the character knows she’s being cliché. Surely Foy does too. The book he’s written, though, doesn’t seem in on the joke.