Greg November opens the Fall 2019 issue of Boulevard with “The Business of Killing Tony.” After initially skimming the first sentences as I paged through the issue, I found it nearly physically impossible to stop reading: “Tony’s death—the first one, I’m talking—last a week. We had nothing to do with that one, Gwen and I, at least not directly.”
The story follows three siblings, the narrator Don, Gwen, and Tony, in the days and weeks following Tony’s death and subsequent resurrection and even more subsequent deaths. Prior to the death, their relationships are strained: Don is detached from the other two siblings as he separates from his wife and moves into a new condo; Tony, addicted to drugs and alcohol, orbits as the family black sheep; and Gwen halfheartedly takes on a motherly role as she attempts to organize an intervention for Tony (which is where he dies the first time) and get Don to participate. Tony comes back with a newfound clarity, death becoming the push he needed to finally sort himself out. But he has one problem: he wants to stay dead and can’t.
November’s characters are wry and detached, and the universe he’s created is lightened with dark humor. The siblings react to the news of Tony’s resurrection relatively level-headedly and are brought together by this new task of killing Tony again and again. There are moments November works in feeling, though he never careens into sappy sentimentality. The plot is inventive and interesting, readers not knowing quite what to expect out of a universe where a man can come back to life and make ties between the lands of the living and dead.
“The Business of Killing Tony” is a great opener for this issue of Boulevard and I look forward to checking out more work by November.
Review by Katy Haas