Precise prose incites reflection—of life, of death, of dueling identities.
In form and content, The Book of Duels, Michael Garriga’s debut, is an outrageously original collection of fiction. Garriga examines many central issues of life, such as mortality, courage, and vengeance.
As its title states, this book is about potentially deadly contests between two entities, both real and imagined. The duels range from the biblical contest of Abel versus Cain to a fight between two whores in a New Orleans cathouse and to Alexander Hamilton’s unseemly contest with Aaron Burr. Each altercation is presented from three perspectives: that of each combatant and that of a witness to the affair.
Searing, sharp prose describes each duel, with alternate viewpoints delivered in less than two pages. Garriga divides accounts of these strange confrontations into three sections that reflect the essential parts of the transaction: Offense, Challenge, and Satisfaction. A short collection of comments from disparate sources on various aspects of duels serves as a mental antipasto to the intellectual feast that follows. For instance, Casanova is reported as saying, “When challenged to a duel, do much or nothing at all.”
The Book of Duels is filled with powerful prose that will startle and will incite deep thought as Garriga examines the losing side’s final moments on earth. For instance, he puts thoughts into the mind of Mitch Boyer—Custer’s half-French, half-Sioux scout—warding off the killing blow at the Little Big Horn: “I … rise to my feet and raise my chin and say in my purest Lakota, Go ahead, T’anhansi, and try to clove me in two anymore than I already am.”
Garriga saves his most tangibly beautiful prose for an examination not of death but of life, in a sweet vignette about the birth of his own child, “The Magic Hour: Garriga v Garriga.” The star of the episode is the newborn baby boy who is given words to express his experience: “I open and close my mouth, hungry to live, and that smell over takes me and calms me, the sounds have receded to one soothing shhhhh and my mouth wraps around a nipple and all is quiet again, warm and safe with us, in this motherly heaven.”
The Book of Duels is enhanced by Tynan Kerr’s black-and-white illustrations at the beginning of each duel. The drawings are near perfect in setting the scene for each episode.
Garriga holds a PhD in creative writing from Florida State University and currently teaches at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio.
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