The Landlord by Wells Tower, 2010
The magic trick:
Capturing the inertia and depression of a middle-aged man by showing him interacting with various characters with no energy to solve problems or inclination toward improvement
We’re off to North Carolina this week.
“The Landlord” does a great job of bringing to life a character who is very different from the author. Not that I know much of anything about Wells Tower. But I know he was pretty young when he wrote this, and I know that our titular landlord is in his 50s with a life full of regret and frustration. He inhabits the character remarkably well.
One of the keys to that portrayal is the way the landlord remains inert no matter what’s happening around him. The story becomes a series of vignettes involving different interactions between the landlord and his employees, his tenants, and his daughter. They are causing him various levels of stress. He doesn’t do much to change anything though. He just keeps things moving along day to day. The result for the reader is the impression of an aging man who has long since ceased to have ambitions for happiness. For a younger writer to not just grasp that but also bring it to life so well, it’s remarkable. And that’s quite a trick on Tower’s part.
In our conversations, Todd says “you dumb motherfucker” the way Jason says “sir.” Our unspoken agreement is that Todd abuses me freely and I brook it with good cheer. In fact, I’m grateful for his curses, because they are a symptom of his stupidity, and Todd’s stupidity is one of my precious assets. Toole is the only man I’ve ever hired who is literally too stupid to lie about his hours or cart my roofing tin off to the salvage man.
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