Verdict: A messy and engaging story of a hard man’s war with emotion.
A jaded marine recounts his troubled love life as he rides a commuter train toward an unknown future.
At the beginning of ARMOR OF GLASS, Brick tells the reader, “I consider myself a realist, not a skeptic or a cynic.” This is a preemptive attempt to control his own narrative: a vision of himself that is constantly slipping over the course of the novel. Life, for Brick, is a zero-sum game: he wants his parking space at the station lot, he wants his standing spot on the platform, he wants his seat in the train car, and if anyone takes any of those things from him then he has fallen a rung in the brutal hierarchy of humanity. A marine who has spent his life driving away from a series of horrific experiences and failed marriages, Brick takes his morning train ride as an opportunity to re-interrogate his past: the parents who failed him, the coach who molested him, the women who loved him, the military who built him back up. At the center of his sordid personal history is Cameo, an old flame and rising Air Force officer who pops in and out of his life, bringing the hope of fulfillment but leaving only desolation and regret.
In the military, Brick earned the call sign “Grumpy”; the reader will probably summon stronger language to describe him. Unapologetically gruff, conservative, misogynistic, and misanthropic, Brick narrates his story with a dense combination of cynical maxims and overwrought imagery (with the occasional misused word thrown in for flavor). Yet this is all part of the armor referenced in the novel’s title: Brick is a damaged man using space, language, and surliness to keep the world at bay. Occasional typos and instances of jarring syntax distract from a story that is otherwise a deceptively immersive character study.
In Brick, Spears has created a memorably realistic protagonist, a man who has fully bought into his own myth: you can see him smoldering in his lonely window seat on the train, daring you to take the one next to him. You may not like Brick; there’s a good chance, in fact, that you will hate him. Even so, you cannot help but feel captivated by his story. Alternately victim and victimizer, hero and goat, unbearable blowhard and sympathetic wanderer, Brick worms his way into the reader’s consciousness and offers a glimpse of what life and love look like for a wide swathe of unromantic America.
A messy and engaging story of a hard man’s war with emotion.