One “ordinary Monday morning”, an image invades 67-year-old Abel Marvin’s thoughts as he swims his regular laps: the “twisted, burned-out hulk of a wheelchair with two welded, gaping red and black skeletons”. It’s a scene that’s haunted Abel for most of his adult life and he buries his face in the water to drown it. But Abel’s breathing becomes forced and pain enters his chest. He realises he is dying, but feels “warm comfort” at the prospect of finally ridding his memory of the “burned relic with the fused skeletons”.
However, before death can take Abel, the spirit of a white-clad nurse appears and announces: “You can’t exit yet, mate, have you given a full account of yourself?” His breathing becomes easier and his pain settles. Abel finds himself sitting in his old Mini, surrounded by “swirling steam”, revisiting the people and places from his earliest childhood memories, to his young adult and middle-aged years, on a quest to give a full account of himself.
Leon Silver’s Sweeties is a stream-of-consciousness narrative with flowing sentences, few paragraph breaks and no chapters. It is a short work of fiction, but feels much longer and I found myself totally engrossed in the story of Abel’s haphazard life, lived like playing a pinball machine: “Pull the pin, hear the ping, silver ball bounce and ding.” The ball is constantly put back into play, when all Abel wants is for it and his life to drain from the table.
The title of the novel is supplied by Abel’s Granny Annie, who after meals would produce a large tray of sweet cakes and biscuits, introducing it thus: “A plate of sweeties to balance out the nasties of life”. The joy of “sweeties” remains a constant in Abel’s life, though he learns “even the most gigantic plate will not balance out the nasties”, including the grizzly deaths of his best friends, fellow members of the pinball playing, “Pinnie Gang”, George and Roma.
When I finished Sweeties, I turned to the back cover and learned Abel was in a coma in the book. Reading the narrative I had imagined Abel’s life flashing before his eyes as he neared death in the pool; nonetheless, both scenarios work for me.
Leon Silver has written an entertaining tale that carries the reader through a man’s life in one long, engaging verse. Sweeties is a reminder of the pinball-game nature of life, with its random bumps and bonus scores. And that a man can be a hero and not a saint.
Robert Fairhead is a middle-aged dad and dog owner. He is currently working on a blog and writers’ website. You can follow him on Twitter at @tallandtrue.