Exile on Kalamazoo Street, by Michael Loyd Gray: A Man’s Solitary Retreat Yields Surprising Results

kalamazooIn Exile on Kalamazoo Street ($12.95, 160 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-235-1), a novel by Michael Loyd Gray, a heavy-drinking author decides that the only way to get his life back on track is to stop drinking. To do so, he spends an entire Michigan winter without leaving the house. As a result the world comes to him in ways he never could have imagined.

Exile on Kalamazoo Street is filled with truths large and small. That, and Gray’s dialogue, descriptions, and the opinions he attributes to Bryce make the book delightful. Unlike the typical alcoholic memoir (‘How I overcame terrific odds to overcome my drinking’), this novel is a fascinating fictional account of one man’s experience of internal exile. I was willing to believe every word of it.”  Read more ….

—Wally Wood, BookPleasures.com

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“Together, his isolated moments and his human interaction through a variety of encounters:—religious, personal, professional and artistic in nature—all offer a perspective on Bryce Carter that reveal the different shades of the protagonist to us. But perhaps Gray’s Exile on Kalamazoo Street in truth echoes in literature form the genius of theatre and opera to use a single stage to tell a rich and diverse story at the heart of which is the human character or characters. Exile on Kalamazoo Street is one of those stories that comes along every once in a while. These are stories that have a pleasant feel to them, and yet the feeling of warm satisfaction they provide cannot be expressed in words.” Read more….

—Paul Risker, Pop Matters

“Gray is one of only a handful of current writers who share a strong male voice, telling their tales through mouths of men who, despite being flawed, ugly or even unlikeable, never pander to the reader for the sake of a metaphorical group hug.”

—Ned Randle, author of Baxter’s Friends and the poetry collection, Running at Night

Michael Loyd Gray is the author of four published novels. His most recent novel (August 2013), The Canary, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is the winner of the 2005 Alligator Juniper Fiction Prize and the 2005 Writers Place Award for Fiction. Well Deserved won the 2008 Sol Books Prose Series Prize. For more information, click here.

Bryce Carter was once a novelist with a following. But unlike James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is genius to millions, Bryce’s experimental novel Reflections was genius to maybe three people. After walking away from his teaching job, Bryce was headed on a one-way collision course down Whiskey River, with only one path to survival: sobriety. And for him, giving up drinking meant exiling himself from his former life.

Now Bryce is holed up in his house on Kalamazoo Street along with his cat, Black Kitty, also a refugee from the cold, snowy world outside. The terms of his self-imposed exile make him dependent on his sister and a sitting duck for anyone who cares to drop by, including an officious minister, an old drinking buddy, an alluring former student, and a pair of Hollywood flunkies who offer Bryce a chance to rescue Reflections from obscurity—if only he can write the screenplay. Unfortunately Bryce’s well of creativity has dried up along with his will to drink, and the more time he spends in exile, the less inclined he is to dip a toe into the icy waters of reality.

Says Gray, “At the beginning of a snowy winter in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I heard The Mamas and The Papas singing ‘California Dreamin’ ’ on an oldies rock station. The line that stuck in my head was, ‘California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.’ That song, that line, would play in my head as I looked out the windows at the snow, and soon I began to think of winter as an exile of sorts. Exile might make for a good story, I thought, but what kind of exile? After a few days I began to imagine the life of someone who exiles himself in his house all winter to stop drinking.”

Keep reading for an excerpt:

My sister came back on another day after I called and urged her to try and catch the cat again. I’d seen it loitering around the house across the street all morning, sometimes just sitting stoically on the porch steps, where it could feel the few meager rays of sunshine as the sun, very shy, slipped in and out of clouds. The cat seemed uninterested in much of anything at all and appeared unmoved when my sister pulled up and walked slowly toward it with strips of meat from a chicken breast. She placed the morsels on the ground in a spot where there was no snow and retreated a few yards. The cat picked up the scent of the meat and started toward it, but halted, remembering, perhaps, that the choice was between food and the potential of undesirable human contact. But it quickly concluded, I suspected, that there was no choice at all. It chose food—immediate survival—and devoured the meat.

When the cat was done, my sister, who kept cats of her own and understood the timing involved, immediately scooped the cat up with both hands. It twisted and flailed but she had a good grip. Tucking the dark bundle of fur against her side, a bit like a halfback tucking the football securely, she skipped across the street and handed the cat to me while I stood in the open side door of my house. Then she pulled the blue knit cap off her head, as though catching the cat required a victory lap in the form of freeing her long blond hair to tumble out and cascade over her shoulders, strands dancing provocatively in the breeze. Her blue eyes sparkled. She was just two years younger than me, with fifty threatening to soon appear on her horizon, but still she retained girlishness, lightness, in her broad face.

I cradled the cat against my chest with both hands as it squirmed and tried to claw me. But my grip was solid and it could not move much. I looked up and out the door at my sister, who grinned as I struggled to contain the hissing cat. And because again it was not one of the days to drop off supplies, she coaxed her grin into a smile and nodded what I felt was approval of our cat kidnapping. Giving a thumbs up with one hand, she trudged down the driveway to her car. She drove away and only then did I realize how cold the air sweeping in through the door was. Using my elbow, I managed to pull the door closed. I carried the cat up the stairs to the kitchen and released it, laughing as it hit the kitchen floor with all four feet a blur. It slipped on the linoleum and hit a wall before disappearing around a corner. I did not see it again for three hours.

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