Suddenly, there are legions of laid-off Target employees looking for a second act. Perhaps now would be a good time to try writing that novel.
Scott Muskin used to get up early and write fiction, then head in to his Target Corp. job in Minneapolis and write ad copy. But it wasn’t working: To finish the novel, he had to quit the job. “I really wanted to have time to write. And it was just painfully clear to me that if I wanted to do the Target thing as a career, it would require full-ass commitment, not half-ass. You can’t show up sleepy-eyed and make the bull’s eye rock,” he says.
So instead, he made his first novel rock. “The Annunciations of Hank Meyerson, Mama’s Boy and Scholar,” out now, has won the Parthenon Prize for Fiction, and moves Minnesota fiction one step further away from the prairie.
It’s a city tale about a smart fat guy who tries to keep one step ahead of a series of family tragedies, but somehow it reads like a comedy — a rare feat. “Humor is awfully hard to pull off in writing, even for funny people,” Muskin admits, but notes that the book is also horribly bleak in spots. “I guess that encapsulates who I am as a person. Most people know me as a crack-up, a funny guy who quips and hugs and enjoys life. And that’s true, but I have always been tuned to the other side of things too, as long as I can remember. I don’t know why. Just sensitive I guess.”
Hank Meyerson was abandoned by his father, orphaned by his mother, dismissed by his brother, and cuckolded by his wife. And then he falls in love with his brother’s wife. No good can come of any of this, right? But laid-off Target employees, take note: You can write your own destiny. Hank abandons his life (and his endless bathroom renovation project) and flees to Montana, where he lives in a pink barn owned by a gay couple and gets his act together. Those are the funny parts.
The rest is up to you to uncover, and yes, some of it is bleak stuff, but in a book as rich and epic as this one, you have to wade into the deep end. Muskin says he cried while writing sections of it. “I guess because of who I am, I see both sides of life so intensely and can’t ignore either,” he says. “And yet, supreme joy also happens to people every day — supreme wonder and supreme banality too. I can’t escape either of it, I guess.”