“This used to be fun,” thinks one of Adam Gallari’s characters, pushing against pain to continue a run, on the verge of some new assessment of his present condition, some new relation to his past. Along with wary and would-be artists, this book is populated by baseball players and former baseball players, their position in the world a metaphor for the struggles faced throughout. The characters in We Are Never as Beautiful as We Are Now grapple with the fact that they are not now what they were before, and the reality that pleasure, love–even the framework of identity–exist, inaccessibly, in the past.
In these stories, memories get deliberately hazed through fiction or strong drink and nostalgia exerts a tug “for things lost that he’s never had the chance to experience,” because that which was once tasted and lost is too painful to contemplate. The men in these pages grow old, or come to the slow but sudden realization that they’ve already grown old some time ago, as they pant through the park trying to keep up with their image of themselves, or retch their guts against an alley wall in a vain attempt to keep pretending.
The banal tragedy of the passage of time is one of Gallari’s main subjects, with attention to the varied ramifications thereof, the small domestic betrayals, the perversions created by the slippage of the past. Two men lean against the same bar, contemplating different women, discussing different sports. A novelist of some dated fame waits for an aspiring writer to relay the details of his last night’s bedroom conquest. Gallari has a touch for describing the distance between people, for narrating the constant masquerade of denial and the collapse that happens after, when the masks slip, when the man can’t pick his head up off the bar or the father awkwardly advices his son about the future.
The writhing of consciousness find voice here, too: “You’ve tried not to think about her. You’ve tried to think of everything and anything else, but even filling your head with thoughts of possible distractions leads your mind to realize that it’s doing so just to distract itself, so you wonder if, now, it would just be easier to think about her.”
In the strongest story, “Chasing Adonis,” told entirely inside a second-person point of view, a man obsessed with winning back his ex-girlfriend seeks transformation through the gym, through abandonment of food, pushing harder and harder until his thighs bang against the treadmill safety bar. Denial here becomes fixation, a consuming task, doomed from the start to fail at its ostensible goal. The girl will never come back, and eventually the man’s knees will go. In the meantime, “You move onto tuna fish and skinless chicken breast, always plain,” as other Gallari characters move on to Johnny Walker or axing down maple trees. Such resistance may be futile, but the exertion of energy is, itself, a way of avoiding the issue. We Are Never as Beautiful as We Are Now, its title another cleverly angled take on time’s inevitable and inevitably destructive passage, highlights both the futility and the humanity of such protest.