The Landlord, Wells Tower

Unbeknown to me, Wells Tower is a Canadian born writer just one year older than me. He is well published and recognized for his talents.

His story, The Landlord, featured in The New Yorker’s special section on writers under 40, had many good points. The characters were quite solidly sculpted and the tone of the narrative was believable. The story flowed relatively well and was engaging enough that I made to the end without getting distracted by the other books that I am reading.

However (there’s always a but), in many ways, this story clarified for me why I don’t like short stories. The protagonist, a property owner heading toward financial disaster, has relationships with all these diverse characters who aren’t fully realised – both in terms of their identities and in terms of the relationships themselves. There is the carpenter, Todd Toole, a loathsome individual, recognised as vulgar and irritating and his apprentice Jason, young and naive. There is the protagonist’s daughter, Rhoda, a strangely disturbed individual, who we gather has many buried issues which would clearly benefit from further exploration. She is an unfinished character and her relationship with her father is unsatisfactorily explored. The protagonist realises this and comments on it and perhaps it is a way for Tower to explore the very complexity that haunts this father/daughter disconnect. However, for the reader, it leaves too much lacking.

The most interesting of all the characters in this story is the first one that we meet: Armando Colón.

At ten-thirty, Armando Colón comes to my office. It lifts my mood to see him. Armando lives in one of the worst properties I own, an apartment complex so rife with mold and vermin that, when I sent a man to clean a vacant unit there, he developed an eye infection that didn’t clear up for a month. You would never know it to look at Armando. His shirt is crisp, his stomach is trim, and his hairline is freshly razored into aristocratic darts. He operates a squeezeball with his right hand. His cologne, applied with restraint, has a wholesome cedar scent, and his presence in the stale air of my office is a force of orderliness and industry.

Colón is a fascinating character. The way that Tower describes him is intriguing and I was immediately captivated by the possibilities of his contribution to this narrative. Unfortunately, after his appearance in the opening, he disappears – quite literally. His absence almost becomes a signifier of something deeper that is occurring in the protagonist’s life at large …

There is no doubt that this story is well written and in terms of language and structure it is worth the read. Yet, for me, it left me wanting more … more substance, more texture, more emotion. I am not sure if this makes sense … perhaps if you read the story you’ll be able to add to my comments …

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