Beautiful Gravity: A Novel
by Martin Hyatt
“They say towns like this don’t exist anymore, but I know that they do because I live here. Noxington is one of those towns where the big stores that sell everything…have yet to be built.” The opening lines of the first chapter lay out a small, hardscrabble Louisiana town where thirty-six-year-old Boz Matthews lives, not completely by choice, but because when he attempts to leave, he feels sick. He is trapped by his anxieties and loneliness, his awareness of his homosexuality, and his feelings of responsibility to his grandfather, who took him in after his mother walked into his family’s burning home and died. As Boz says about himself: “…no matter who I am with or how many people I am around, I never feel like I’m truly with anyone but me.” Boz escapes his claustrophobic existence by watching movies, listening to music, and fantasizing, until his friend Meg, who is chronically suicidal, returns after discharge from a mental hospital. Then, a glamorous, world-worn singer, Catty, arrives with Kyle, an ex-boxer. The four eventually form a fluid nuclear family of sorts, in which each shifts from heterosexuality to homosexuality in a rotation that fulfills unspoken deep needs. Hyatt handles this flexibility with smooth skill, applying an almost post-gay mentality in which his characters exist as themselves rather than as figures with fixed sexualities, a new trend in contemporary literature that should be applauded. Each person is treated with respect and sympathy by the author, an attitude that reflects his own humanity. He has also created a contained physical world for this novel, one more reminiscent of an intimate theater piece, despite the astutely observed backdrop of Noxington. Most action takes place in the diner, where Boz works, and his room above the diner; the tightly enfolding setting seems to amplify the intensity of the relationships.
Although the location is extremely different, there are some similarities between Hyatt’s novel and the work of the South African writer, Damon Galgut, who usually features an outsider, a young man wandering in search of something he can’t define. The characters in Beautiful Gravity have all united in one place, however, but the narrator evinces much of the same quiet, tragic solitariness, the quest for meaning and self-understanding. Throughout, Hyatt’s writing is fresh and accomplished, with numerous memorable lines that sizzle with simple and piercing honesty. Boz provides this telling analysis about himself: “Most of us in towns like this stay put. Besides, it’s the only thing I know how to do well. I am excellent at staying.” And as Meg says to Boz, “Your being alive and my desire for death are the only things that make me happy.” Or, as Boz says about his grandfather: “You can’t just leave someone that takes you at a time when there is nothing about you worth having.”
Beautiful Gravity is a blend of bleak realism and uplifting transcendence, of despondency and hopefulness, told tenderly by the narrator. Because of the outstanding success of this novel, Martin Hyatt’s next work will undoubtedly garner major publishing interest. I look forward to reading it!—Laury A. Egan, author of The Outcast Oracle and, forthcoming, Fabulous! An Opera Buffa