Every now and then reading a book feels more like an event than the simple consumption of words on a page. Reading Cody Sexton's, All the Sweet Prettiness of Life felt like an event.
Written as a diary from a man in his mid-forties, reflecting upon the formative years of his childhood, Sexton (Editor of the online magazine, A Thin Slice of Anxiety) plunges the reader deep into the world of sexual discovery. There is something remarkable that happens when a writer refuses to hide humanity's secrets, but brings them into the light for examination and reflection. It is fascinating how such work often makes people nervous. In the 2nd Century, for instance, Tertullian wrote De Spectaculis, a treatise that explored the morality of Christians attending the gladiatorial games and public spectacles of Roman culture. Tertullian sets out in detail what happens at the games, and then argues why Christians should avoid them. The interesting thing about this text is not Tertullian's moral framework, but the way in which he does not hide the brutality and barbarity regularly exhibited at the games. Rather than trying to make a case for Christian morality through ignorance, he invites the reader to consider the depth of the violence that occurs in the Roman amphitheatres. In some ways All the Sweet Prettiness of Life reminded me of Tertullian's treatise, not in the sense of searching for morality, but holding the reader's face to human sexuality, the complexities of it, the violence that is some people's reality, and the emotional power our first sexual encounters have upon our lives.
Sexton continually reminds the reader that there are emotions and experiences as children that shape us into adulthood, and we must be willing to confront, wide-eyed and authentically, those fleshly phenomenons.
The story centres upon the protagonists recollection of his first sexual encounter with a woman known as Mother, and her teenage niece, Kristy. Mother's power, dominance, and influence is ubiquitous upon his life, so much so that as a middle-aged man there is nothing he can do to shake her lasting impact.
Sexton powerfully highlights the journey of masculinity, allowing the reader to peer through the eyes of a forty-something man, and the deeper questions that men are asking about themselves in a society that is confused as to what it should even be,
I grew up in the shadow of a useless history.
Mythologized by broken men.
The brevity of the book is part of its capacity to leave a mark on the skin as everything is stripped back, words and moments and conversations and language raw, deliberate, and brutal.
I have no hesitation in saying this is one of my favourite books that I've read this year.
"All I know for sure," the man writes, "is that the light within me is too weak to hold back the darkness." Events like that which Sexton provides in All the Sweet Prettiness of Life, is the authenticity that shines a light on the human experience.