“Grief is an out-of-body thing, the worst secret you can have. You live in one terrible place trapped inside your head while your body lived in another terrible place entirely.”
I’ll be honest, I don’t normal gravitate towards novels that are described as grief stories. Although the subject matter I tend to read is far from uplifting and happy, the word “grief” scares me. Just saying the word feels like a kind of weight, something I don’t want to carry.
Richard Chiem, however, has changed my mind. King of Joy follows Corvus, a young women who in the wake of losing her husband, heads to California to work for a sleazy pornographer named Tim. Through flashbacks we learn of Corvus’ painful past, her abusive mother, her absent father, the lose of the man she loved and the feeling of sadness that never quiet leaves her. Now, after Tim shows his true colors, Corvus and fellow porn star, Amber, are on the run with their pitbull, Marco.
It's scary to see you made it through a night you don't remember. The feeling is like eyeing a speeding car rush past you, missing you by an inch or a second.
This novel is dreamy, leaving the reader in a hazy fog. With joints constantly being smoked and the ever presence of drugs and alcohol, we are never really grounded in time or place which creates an aura of allusiveness. Corvus has ways of distracting herself with an active imagination and frequent escapes to the inside of fantasy novels, pop songs and movies. This novel has a mood to it, a specific tone that completely encompassing you while reading.
Eye contact can be this sweet torture
I found myself feeling drawn to Corvus as if she were a real person in my life. We have similarities — constantly day dreaming, transporting ourselves through time as a coping mechanism, as a way of escape. Although this novel does deal with grief and trauma, Chiem handles it with such care and attention, very conscience and aware to keep the reader from feeling weighed down. His prose are sharp, often leaving you with lines you will want to read over and over again.
With surreal elements, hippos and dark humor, King of Joy is an unforgettable novel, a story that beautifully dissects the very real feelings of sadness, isolation, loneliness and human connection.
King of Joy
By Richard Chiem
178 pages. 2019
Soft Skull Press