Today we are joined by Scott Alexander Hess, author of The Butcher’s Sons, out now from Lethe Press.
Guest Post – The Intricacy of Masculinity
That singular word drew me initially into the writing of my latest novel, The Butcher’s Sons, set in a gritty butcher shop in Hell’s Kitchen New York City circa 1930. As I explored the word and concept, my research guided me back to early images of men including my father (who built our St. Louis family home as well as launching a restaurant equipment company) and to my two older brothers (the inspiration for the novel’s rough and tumble siblings Walt and Dickie).
While I had considered myself strong and at times courageous through my life, I did not consider myself masculine, at least not in the traditional sense. That changed through the writing of The Butcher’s Sons, as did my perceptions of the word masculinity itself.
Seeing the world through the eyes of the character Dickie, I discovered in myself a base connection to a gutsy, violence-infused quest for power, domination and respect. This trait, though associated with masculinity, is in essence war like, brutal and in some ways sexless. In writing the gentler middle brother Walt and even more so the youngest, fragile and secretly gay brother Adlai, I uncovered a wide range of characteristics that were shaded with variations of what may be considered masculine.
In essence, the writing of these three very different brothers cracked open a broader appreciation for, and definition of, what it is to be masculine and to consider the concept’s more subtle edges.
Dickie’s form of masculinity is all violent bravado as in the scene below from Part One, Chapter 12:
“We’re The Butcher’s” Dickie said.
The fat kid swiped at his brow, scrunched his forehead.
“Oh yeah, so the fuck what? Get out of here you dirty Mick. We got business.”
Dickie flinched. The chimes swayed and as the kid turned to notice the sound, summoned by some stray memory of some stray summer, caught off guard by that delicate phrase of sweetness, as he turned Dickie lifted the heavy jar of pickles and slammed it into the kid’s head.
Bug was touching the chimes, making them dance, and he kept that up as the kid squealed and fell to his knees, blood spurting out of the side of his head, one shard of glass from the expertly shattered jar holding firm just above his ear, gushing. Dickie bent to the floor, plucking the shard from the kid’s head.
“I’m Dickie, leader of The Butcher’s, Now we’ve met,” he said.
I discovered a more layered level of masculinity and strength in the character of young Adlai, who against the odds, discovers love through the novel, and more importantly comes to embrace himself as a man. The scene below from Part Three, Chapter 12, is part of his awakening:
Adlai stood naked for a moment, then gently, lowered himself down to a lying position in the creek, so the water was forced to rush around him, as if he were a torn branch fallen from storm. The cooling water swarmed around his head, swirling out and into and through him. He was mostly submerged, though not fully, He felt the water like gentle hands, like a rushing dream come back. With one hand he tried to cup water to bring it to his parched lips, but it kept spilling out, so he flipped over and let water gush into his mouth, rushing forcefully, as if molesting and bruising his lips, chocking him. So thirsty, he gulped, then flipped over again, letting the coolness take him.
He wondered if Ed could fit next to him, the bulk of that man in the narrow creek. Looking up, he again spied the moon, and for the first time that night, that week really, the insect’s music, which was awash with the gentle cry of the creek, comforted him. It was as if they were singing for him, as if it were a love song, a lullaby.
Ultimately, the novel also shed light on parallels in my father’s more traditionally masculine creative life and my own. His building of our home, the late night sawing and nailing during the summer of 1954 under a hot Missouri moon; and my own evening discipline, at my writing desk near a wide open New York City window, constructing long, winding sentences and discovering characters that were to become The Butcher’s Sons.
We both, I realized are explorers, men of strength and conviction.
About the Book
Bound by blood but separated by secrets, brothers—Dickie, Walt and Adlai—run a butcher shop for their alcoholic father, whose broken spirit has isolated him from the world. When Dickie makes a rash decision, involving an organized crime family, a chain of events ensues that changes the brothers’ lives and forces them to come together— at first, with a sense of camaraderie, but ultimately, with something much fiercer, more brutal. The Butcher’s Sons is a gritty, intimate portrait of three young Irish-American brothers whose lives irrevocably change during a heat wave in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, circa 1930.
About the Author
Scott Alexander Hess earned his MFA in creative writing from The New School. He blogs for The Huffington Post, and his writing has appeared in Genre Magazine, The Fix, and elsewhere. Hess co-wrote “Tom in America,” an award-winning short film starring Sally Kirkland and Burt Young. The Butcher’s Sons is his third novel. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Hess now lives in Manhattan, New York
Learn more at http://www.scottalexanderhess.com and follow Scott Alexander Hess on Twitter @ScottAlexHess.