Scale depicts a depraved artist’s journey to self-improvement. It follows two timelines separated between the odd and even chapters of the novel which are short, composed of utterly beautiful words, brilliantly written, and not at all enjoyable… in a traditional sense.
I am a vehement and long-standing fan of Keith Buckley’s band Every Time I Die, which is how I came to know of the novel. It is evident that the author has written about something that he knows very well, with the protagonist of the novel Ray Goldman being described as a ‘hopeless and struggling indie rock musician’ and some features of the novel perhaps unsurprisingly being other musicians, bars, music venues, tour buses, and watching a woman forcibly insert a whole bottle of beer into her own rectum. However, other parts of the novel move beyond ‘indie rock’; an unfair and impactful experience at college, Ray’s memory of moving into his first house and feeling protective over his sofa, the various loves and distinct losses of women in particular (his girlfriend Claire, sister Lily, wife Hannah, the woman who allowed him to love himself Sophia)- all which gives the novel such incredible yet uncomfortable human depth, as I hope to explain.
Ray Goldman’s story comprises intense self-loathing alongside detrimental environmental and human forces, and also a fight against the inevitability of things. A key theme in the novel, in both parallel stories, is Ray’s relationships, where the division between love and lust is explored. Ultimately emptiness swallows perfection, and Ray destroys in some way each life that he encounters. He explores various ways to ‘get help’ and sometimes questions the existence of a higher power, but ultimately I felt that things were quite inescapable for Ray; very little is resolved in the novel, which is a refreshing albeit crushing honest reflection on the human condition. There is no relief from this, except perhaps following the devastating crash (an ironic and purposeful event). The actual construction of the novel is very clever; the parallel timelines are interesting to read, and seeds are planted in early chapters to culminate in later events- for example saving a particular Frank event for last, but also Sophia. Also, the quality of writing and story-telling is truly exemplary- I laughed out loud during the steroids conversation, and felt genuine terror during the car crash later in the book.
Another theme of the novel is Ray’s view of the music he creates, and the view he feels others hold. In one chapter Evan speaks of Ray’s convoluted inability to write genuinely and that he had hoped that in breaking up with Claire, Ray might have written something honest. Here there seems to be some element of truth alongside novelisation; as a long-standing fan of Every Time I Die I can recognise that in their most recent album (Low Teens) lyrically Keith is more literal, almost abandoning the purposefully sardonic and complex patterns and choices of words. In the way that Ray’s father brings him the writing desk at the end of Scale, the reader is left to ponder what circumstances brought the writing desk before Keith Buckley. The novel is quite undisputedly in his own style with words, phrases and ideas being reminiscent of several Every Time I Die songs. Indeed, Keith writes so well that I was wholly involved in the character of Ray enough to be quite concerned at how very unlike a character he is… hence that the novel is not traditionally enjoyable, but rather a painful measure of personal iniquity and loneliness. I think it is wonderful.
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