Author R.B. Scott recently held a book release for his new novel “The Mending” at the King’s English Bookstore here in Salt Lake. Through the closely winding stairs and packed shelves of the iconic shop, Scott sat signing copies for close friends, many of whom attended the events at the bookstore for his first two books. “[It’s a] tradition I hope will continue as long as I do,” Scott said. The small party mosied next door to the 15th Street Gallery, a quasi-annex of the bookstore, set up for Scott’s audience to hear pieces of his new story for the first time.
Scott shared that the original title of his third novel was “The Mending: A Life Too Well Remembered.” The story draws on the deep self-doubt of a “son of man” protagonist Benjamin Adams Pratt, as he is lovingly christened. Reflecting on his past, minute details haunt Pratt’s conscience. Much of the first half of the book centers around his fearful obsession that his loved ones will soon be lining up to “piss on his grave.” As the novel describes them, the big deals in Pratt’s life “had been completely invisible to the man who missed nothing and remembered everything.”
“The Mending” is a bridge between the two worlds of Scott’s life. Much of the story’s exploration of childhood remnants is set in the Salt Lake Valley, and it takes a true native to speak this close to the city itself — the gridded layout sprinkled with nooks and crannies as well as its culture, in addition to how growing up as a member of different communities leaves impressions into one’s adulthood. Scott’s own history here lends itself to shaping Ben Pratt, but the contrast comes from experience on what Scott jokingly refers to as “the right coast.” The pieces of the story that weaves through Boston, Manhattan and pockets of New England serve the dichotomy in Pratt and how his return home becomes unforeseeably difficult.
Pratt, as a character, is so human as he travels through his sort of homecoming. As an undeniable skeptic navigating the influence his upbringing had on him, religiosity and shame are big factors in the story. His reunification often accompanies “stoking the fires of guilt, adventure, and awkward accountability and atonement.” But, Pratt is as captivated by redemption as he is by damnation. We see a charming friend, a supportive father, a loving husband, a scholar and a sportsman, a critic and a composer in his own right.
Structurally, this book uniquely provides windows into other characters, allowing certain encounters to be driven by the supporting cast of Pratt’s life. Chapters are devoted to the worlds of Annebury, Ben’s adored and adoring wife, or Sam, his resenting son, or even the caricature of Lord Cottonbottom, a figurehead of his impulsive coming of age. These vignettes dart in and out of history non-chronologically, but they appear linear in the unfolding of Pratt himself.
It was a joy to hear Scott read from his novel, even more so because his excerpt selection was a personal favorite. Setting the scene without revealing too much, Pratt finds himself at the hospital bedside of a dear friend where, despite decades of friendship, the two experience several emotional “firsts.” The story shows vulnerability and honesty behind the sarcastic banter of old relationships, and you could see how this passage struck a chord in Scott, a reminder of how close this story is to home.
However, there were sections of the book that flew far over my head, particularly chapters devoted to golf and country clubs. While Scott’s reading of a passage from this portion just helped me put two and two together, the comedic tale he tells through the sport really unified the crowd. There were chatter and questions and audience anecdotes, the camaraderie of a generation I can only try to understand. Truthfully, the book isn’t geared towards Millennial or Gen Z readers. Nonetheless, it’s easy enough to smile-and-nod through the situational comedy because there are other treasures to glean from the novel.
“The Mending,” in addition to R.B.Scott’s other novels, is available for purchase now where books are sold, such as at a favorite local bookstore like the King’s English.