Who the hell is David Mathew? One talented and brave writer out of the UK, that’s who. An accomplished name in the short story field that I’m hoping to see make a big splash in the States with his breakout novel O My Days (Triskaideka Books/Montag Press), a writer who’s literary and surrealistic savvy evokes thoughts of such dark fabulists as Conrad Williams and T. M. Wright.
Online, at the Urban Dictionary, “Oh my days” is defined as an expression used when in shock or in awe of something, when excited or surprised. But with Mathew’s book, the term’s more that of a lament–a decrying of a nightmarish situation, spiritually, mentally, physically, and geographically.
And why not? The book’s protagonist and storyteller, William “Billy” Alfreth, certainly has enough on his plate, being imprisoned at Delacotte’s Young Offenders Institute for a brutal crime caught on camera, an act–despite any film to the contrary–that went down totally different in Billy’s mind. Making matters worse, while being grilled by a visiting psychologist writing a thesis on “prison lingo,” Billy’s starting to lose it, with his estranged family, his girlfriend and baby, his money … and with time: chunks of time, unaccounted for, with only one possible horrific explanation. Things are coming to a head, and Billy’s going to get some answers. But in the looking, the price is going to be paid for in blood–lots.
The real pleasure, though, is not in Mathew’s plot, but in the story’s unveiling. There are books and there are books. Some are fine reading fodder, but in the end, are simply passable fares, not unlike fast-food, or perhaps ten- to fifteen dollar plates, meals enjoyed for what they are, but quickly forgotten. Then there are those “fine dining” pieces of work, books that force a reader to want to sit in an easy chair and sub-vocalize every word, skimming nothing. Works that pack the whole punch with story/setting/character and literary-value. In O My Days Mathews delivers a first-person tale written in authentic prison voice that challenges a reader (especially American ones) to savor every word, every line, every page. This is not a work to be skimmed. I call Mathew brave because the established tone and slow-burn pace of his novel is not the most easily accessible. Rather, his character- and diction-driven tone require a reader’s complicity … requires the reader to join William “Billy” Alfreth on his nightmarish journey of discovery. Not every reader will have the patience to do their part in the partnership that O My Days requires. What’s wonderful, however, is that for those that do, the payoff explodes in spades.
Last word on the subject, remember: “No one kicks off in the Cookery class.” Now, if you really want to find out why, pick up and read O My Days by David Mathew. You’ll be glad you did, bruv.