This rich, clear prose has the rare quality of making anything seem interesting, from the mechanics of a baler machine to the backdrop of a dive bar. Wink’s writing has the deceptive simplicity of greats such as Hemingway or Carver, and the melancholy and pathos underpinning the book has echoes of John Williams’s Stoner, though in August we don’t get as close to the character. The protagonist’s detached observations and solitary ways can at times keep the reader at bay.
There is a touch of black comedy and a shadow of the Southern Gothic and always the threat that restraint will erupt into violence or laughter boil over into rage. Wink skilfully weaves in a subtle sense of foreboding that never leaves.
August ignores most advice but he does learn something about his country, his family and himself. In this tightly controlled yet highly unpredictable novel we discover what it is like to come of age in a part of America that is always changing, always the same.
More subtly, the book is about shifts in perspective: looking at the world through the eyes of a child and then those of an adult; coming to see parents as people in their own right; grasping the up-and-down nature of long-term relationships. There’s a rather lovely resonance in the fact that, after the enduring wounds inflicted by his parents’ divorce and other failed relationships, when August finally does break something on the ranch, it ends up being his ring finger.
Fortunately too the longer the book goes on — and the more we adapt to its languorous rhythms — the clearer it becomes how deftly the lack of affect is being used to reinforce Wink’s central point: that August is a stranger to himself. The unknowability of other people and the difficulties of knowing ourselves are scarcely unknown themes in fiction, but rarely can they have been so wholeheartedly rendered — or embodied — as they are here, with the book’s own inscrutability reflecting that of its main character.