If there’s a moment that perfectly encapsulates Andy McGuire’s debut book, Country Club, it is this. Angry, yet charming, crassly educated and self-effacingly self-aggrandizing, Country Club is a balls-out, tits-up, what-the-fuck-are-we-all-doing-here romp through thirty-something ennui.
On first reading, much of McGuire’s work appears stylistically uncomplicated, but these are poems best read twice, as they take on new dimensions each time. The book opens with the poem “Pool,” which itself opens with the arresting line “I’m too tired to care today,” and then dissolves into a rambling, poetic rant that leads you in linguistic circles: rhymes that leave you looking for a pattern (there is none), a storytelling style that leaves you searching for a point (there isn’t one). This sort of style—in which one finds complexity in simplicity—is present in much of the work, and lends a special depth to subject matter that might otherwise seem pointlessly crass. This is evident in such pieces as “Dolphin,” which is essentially a poem about the speaker creeping on a pretty girl at the pool, making his “dolphin squirm at all the commotion.” He then talks about “money shots” in conjunction with the application of sunscreen, but is redeemed quite suddenly at the end of the poem with the line “a waitress watches me watch.” The reader is caught in three positions simultaneously—that of the narrator, that of the reader and that of the waitress, moving back and forth seamlessly through three varieties of experience. In the hands of a less skilled poet, this could easily result in banal and confusing work, but McGuire shifts between ideas and perspectives with flawless ease.
McGuire doesn’t always succeed. The poem “Worst Case Scenario,” in which the narrator has an erection at an inappropriate time, is pretty much just comedy for comedy’s sake, and not as well crafted as some of his other pieces. “My worst case scenario squirts / Blood slowly flows back up to my brain / And the worst is yet to come / Again,” is as obvious as metaphors get, and not particularly interesting. This poem, along with a handful of others—“Urn,” “Spring,” and “Solo Show” come to mind—feel tacked on to the collection, perhaps in an effort to flesh it out, though they seem pale and a little trite in comparison to McGuire’s stronger work.
Any weaknesses, however, can—and should—be overlooked, if only for exquisite lines like ”The day is darker, // The palm blades sharper in yards / Where shadows kick back in the shade,” (“Yuletide”) and “Freedom is measured in football fields, / God is a secret shopper, / The appeal of immaculate grass never grows old, / Heaven is a glorious ass with no hole” (“Butchers Holler”). If you are searching for poems about lakes, pine trees and the satisfaction of a good day’s work, you might not enjoy Country Club, but if you’re looking for something fresh and urban, you definitely shouldn’t miss it.
Lori Garrison is a writer, reviewer and journalist who currently lives in her camper, somewhere in the bushlands of Northern British Columbia.
ARC IS BEST READ THRICE!