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Review of The Body of This: Stories

Ian David Philpot

About a month ago, Robin Merrill wrote into Relief's Editor-in-Chief asking to write a review of Relief published author Andrew McNabb's new book, The Body of This: Stories.   The e-mail was passed to me and I was more than happy to put Robin on the schedule.  So I present to you Robin's review:

An Important New Voice

By Robin Merrill

A man gives up a million dollar lottery ticket so his girlfriend will eat a bag of potato chips.  A thirty-three year old lawyer quits his practice to work at Home Depot, where he can be truly subservient.   A young girl dreams of marrying Christ.  A woman contemplates the birth of her albino child.  A family man dreams of licking a homeless woman’s teeth to achieve rapture.

Andrew McNabb’s debut collection of short stories is a triumph.  Twenty-eight stories in only 164 pages, some are more like vignettes than stories.  McNabb does not waste words.  His stories are tight and potent.  Don’t expect plot driven narratives; instead, each story paints a portrait of a character (or two), most of whom seem inexplicably familiar.  Have I met them somewhere before?  Or do I recognize myself in McNabb’s honest depictions?

I would be remiss if I did not call attention to McNabb’s peculiar ability to write a love story.  How can a writer today tell a love story that is fresh and authentic without falling into the sticky traps of romance and sentimentalism?  McNabb achieves this with realism.  The collection is worth reading for one piece alone: “Their Bodies, Their Selves.”  An elderly man falls while using the restroom and his elderly wife, upon finding him injured and embarrassed, undresses in front of him for the first time.  Tender.  Human.  Perhaps the most exquisite love story I’ve read.

This is a corporeal collection.  I fear a “Christian” label might summon expectations of cartoonish characters and Little House on the Prairie plots. Instead, a reader finds blatant realism, with sex and flatulence and nudity, and yes, even cursing, but it is never gratuitous, just graciously honest.  McNabb fuses the spiritual and the physical in such a perfect union, one wonders how there was ever a divide.

This is not a collection of stories about being Christian, but instead an exploration of what it means to be human in a beautiful, haunted world. McNabb’s faith and spiritual self-awareness is intrinsically woven throughout the book’s pages.  No story is told “because of faith” or “in service of faith.”  The faith is just there.  It is just part of the human experience, which makes The Body of This all the more authentic.  I expect to be affected by these stories for some time.  Andrew McNabb is an important writer.