Joseph Edwin Haeger

Book Review: Through Hardships to the Stars: Witchita Stories by Troy James Weaver

Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Witchita Stories by Troy James Weaver. (Future Tense Books)

 

Troy James Weaver dedicates Witchita Stories to his brother. The book ultimately revolves around their relationship. Even the chapters where his brother is absent, you can still feel his overall presence and influence on Weaver and how they fit in as individuals into the larger world. Weaver is able to illustrate the forced loss of innocence he experienced as the younger brother in this slim book, transcending the page and burrowing into the reader, sticking around for days.

Witchita Stories is formatted as a series of vignettes. The moments Weaver included range from seemingly forgettable to life-altering. These snapshot memories build a mosaic revealing a larger story about someone trying to understand his emotions. He is attempting to dissect his past through these small moments and unlock the mysteries his youth preserved. It isn’t always an active role he takes in the stories, but through his inaction he has grown to be the person we’re now reading. He takes the role of observer; and while it makes a lot of the book circumstantial regarding his role in life, it also shows what we as people witness helps influence our growth as much as what we choose to partake in.

Weaver contemplates his formative years to not just figure himself out, but also to shine a light on what it means to be alive. There are scenes with his father, a Vietnam vet, where even with an assumed wisdom there are still uncertainties from him. Moments when his dad is warm and welcoming, and others showing more distance, thus revealing the range in their relationship. Weaver ponders this, wondering if being the oldest child was “why he’s always been so cold and distant. Or was it mostly the war that did that to him? It’s really hard to tell sometimes, I know that much.” It’s the chicken or the egg scenario condensed into these couple sentences and yet Weaver has repackaged the idea in his book to make it fresh and appealing. It’s hard to write something that has been told to death, but he does it in such a way that tricks the reader into thinking they’re reading a new discovery.

The person who has influenced Weaver more than any other is his brother; his presence permeates the entirety of the book. An early story involves his brother’s friend prying Weaver’s eyes open so he would watch porn. His brother attacks the friend, throwing him out the front door. There is no discussion afterward regarding his brother being a protector, but the role is implicit. Then there are other moments, like when his brother threatens to put liquid acid (the hallucinogenic kind) into food when Weaver refuses to do it with him because he doesn’t want to trip by himself. This level of inner conflict is intriguing because of the two unspoken, and contradicting, roles his brother takes on: protector and abuser.

Along with trying to contextualize life, Witchita Stories is attempting to reconcile the complicated feelings he has for his brother. He is supposed to feel love because he’s family, but at the same time there is a level of hate. As the youngest, you can’t help but “look at your siblings and almost admire them for their boldness of vision, however borrowed it may be.” You naturally look up to them, but as you get older you start to understand the human moments that make all of us vulnerable and you start to question the admiration. Then you get a little older and you realize you’re no different and begin to understand those qualities. Weaver comes to this moment at the end of the book and realizes “things are good, not bad, we are alive and living, not dead, not yet, not ever, so long as we know we’ll live forever, not bad, not good, but together, sealing ourselves, here, with one last joke.” He accepts the love he has for his brother and that comes from his own growth as a person.

We’re not supposed to know the context of everything in this book. Weaver doesn’t necessarily know it himself, but he understands each inclusion on an emotional level. Early in the book, he talks about his first kiss and, while he didn’t remember the girls’ names, he knew “they meant enough to me that I’m putting them right here, on this page, so they can remain here, with me, forever, even in this small way.” And now we have these words and memories with us, forever, and I’m grateful to Weaver for being brave enough to show us the dark corners of his memory so we can learn a little bit more about what it means to be human.

 

Joseph Edwin Haeger

Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim (University of Hell Press, 2015). His writing has appeared in The Pacific NW Inlander, RiverLit, Hippocampus Magazine, and others. He lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and son.

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