Before All Who Have Ever Seen This Disappear
a novel by Michael Gills
ISBN: 978-1-956440-31-7 paperback $21.95
ISBN: 978-1-956440-32-4 ebook $9.99
March 21, 2023
Before All Who Have Ever Seen This Disappear, Michael Gills’ fifth novel, plumbs the depths of the Stepwell family tendency toward theatrical catastrophe. When Weldon Stepwell, bare-knuckled catcher for the Danville Little Johns and town florist, has his leg amputated in a wood-cutting accident, the team shows up on the hospital lawn to give blood, pray, and curse God. Mostly they gather to be with the stricken wife, daughter, and son and wait to see if their teammate will live through the night. One teammate is sent to retrieve the leg, and just what on earth do you do with such a thing? Rural Arkansas in 1950, they are men who’d just whipped Hitler and come home to play ball, volunteer firemen, rural mail carriers, the stray senator-to-be, hardware store workers, and fish farmers. Spanning three generations, they just can’t seem to outrun whatever it is that stalks their periphery. Finally, an adult grandson must contend with the Stepwell business in the form of a plague that comes on them and the world from nowhere. Quarantined between a gleaming football stadium on one side of the road and the city cemetery on the other, a moment comes when they must walk out under the sun and re-commune. A story that dives as deep as you like into the abyss, then fights its way out with all the hope and grace this life allows.
What people are saying about Before All Who Have Ever Seen This Disappear:
Michael Gills can flat out write fine sentences. His writing is part Old Testament prophet, part Cormac McCarthy. It’s not as violent as either, but it’s not without its moments of violence, betrayal, and the attendant tragedies those things bring. All of Gills’ novels are rooted in the Stepwell family’s history, which is dark and shiny in turns. This, his fifth novel, Before All Who Have Seen This Disappear, is, to some extent a baseball novel, but not as much about baseball as the cover might lead us to believe. Like all good baseball novels, it’s about life, love, loss, and most of the time rallying, finding enough strength to persevere. This season, 1949, after the war against Hitler has been won, is cut short by the buck saw that takes Weldon Stepwell’s leg, and soon his marriage. It does not end with a shot into the gap with the winning run in scoring position. No, Weldon, like the mighty Casey, strikes out. He’s “sorry to beat the band. Sorry like no one’s business. The sorriest man on a planet full to the sorry brim with sorry people.” And yet, his grandson Joey forgives him, as we are wont to do, and loves him to the end of his days. This novel will leave you a bit bruised and battered, but it also will help you find your way through the dark times, past and yet to come.
—Rick Campbell, author of Sometimes the Light and Gunshot, Peacock, Dog
Michael Gills’ brand-spanking-new novel begins with an avalanche and never slackens pace thereafter. These pages jangle with incident, present a pageant of unforgettable personages, and speak a language of ruefully humorous lament and celebration. Every phrase exhibits the generous outlook of its author. Every sentence reveals and affirms a surprising truth we already know. The ornery humor is truthfully mordant, energized by sprightly melancholy.
—Fred Chappell, author of A Shadow All of Light
and many other works of poetry and fiction
Arkansas native Michael Gills is the author of eleven books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel New Harmony (Raw Dog Screaming Press), Book 4 of the Go Love Quartet. A fourth collection of short fiction, Burning Down My Father’s House, will be published by Texas Review Press in 2023. Other work has been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and won the Southern Humanities Review’s Theodore Hoefner Prize for Fiction, Southern Review’s Best Debut of the Year, recognition in the Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize Anthology, and inclusion in New Stories from The South: The Year’s Best. His undergraduate novel writing workshop has been featured in USA Today, and several of his students have gone on to publish books of their own, including Emi Wright’s Alegría (Madville Publishing, 2021). Gills is a Distinguished Honors Professor at the University of Utah, where he lives in the hills with his wife of thirty-four years, Jill.
Michael Gills works magic, marrying the dialect of 1950s rural Arkansas with a modern experimental structure that works amazingly well. And you can read so many other families and other lives into the background of this one. All of our families, probably.