If seeing the name Quentin Crisp immediately puts you in mind of The Naked Civil Servant, this is not the same Quentin Crisp. In fact, the Quentin Crisp who wrote Servant isn’t even Quentin Crisp but Denis Charles Pratt, while Quentin S. Crisp, the author of “Remember You’re A One-Ball!” is actually the real Quentin Crisp. Get all that? Yet, Quentin S. Crisp (born 1972 according to Wikipedia) will likely put readers in mind of the other Quentin Crisp, even though, well, the similarity ends with the name. But enough of that—this is about Quentin S. Crisp.
“Remember You’re A One-Ball!” (Chomu Press) is a highly layered and intricate tale involving many things, with the most obvious being child abuse, though to grant the novel this straightforward description is to not do it justice. While some aspects of childhood abuse are covered, this is not the focus of the novel, but rather, childhood itself is, and just how much of childhood, as it relates to one’s memory, impacts one’s life later on? Ramsey is a teacher at a school he once attended. Told in first person, he is self-centered and observant, melodramatic and intelligent. Crisp crafts a wonderfully flawed yet insightful character that actually makes interesting observations. Imagine that. He becomes involved with a woman, Jacqueline, not really because he loves her or even likes her all that much, but just because she is there. The relationship between Ramsey and Jacqueline offers some of the most interesting parts of the book, for we don’t really know who Jacqueline is because we only see her through Ramsey’s lens. Take this description as example:
“Jacqueline’s bedroom gave the impression of being bare without being tidy. It almost seemed more bed than room, with everything apart from the bed having the sloppy appearance of afterthought. There was the washbasin attached to the wall, over which hung a mirror spotted with something unidentified—perhaps soap or make up. There was the wardrobe, the chest-of-drawers—some drawers part way open, a bra-strap hanging from one. There was a forlorn-looking wooden chair, perhaps used by a decorator to place his radio on and then left behind, a bookshelf with a few broken-spined novels—Colette, Oscar Wilde, Brett Easton-Ellis and others—and a single print of Degas or someone equally predictable on the wall, one corner unstuck and curled up, in the right side, a tear. On the floor were a hair-dryer and a brush.”
This is great use of description because the scene doesn’t consist of just random describing for no reason, but rather, reading it we get a sense of not only how Jacqueline is, but also how Ramsey views her, and even more so, feels about her. The way their relationship is presented is realistic not only in terms of the character but how men very often view women they have only lukewarm attraction to. This is a perfect example of how description through observation is the most effective.
As the narrative progresses and Ramsey witnesses some bullying occurring at his school, he intervenes in more ways than just physically breaking up the fight. Not to give too much of the plot away, “Remember You’re A One-Ball!” also carries elements of thriller- like mystery with a pinch of horror thrown in. Crisp manages to balance both the exciting storyline that readers will crave, with the literary elements necessary to recommend it. Crisp is best when his characters are ruminating on be it nature, memory, or childhood, thus giving the narrative an organic feel. Ramsey is continually assessing his place within the universe, and often arises at contradiction, both within himself and also that which he observes. Take this, for example, when Ramsey speaks about his mother:
“Mothers have this dual character: that one introduces them to the world in a formal manner, although they are the proof of one’s own personal, and therefore vulnerable, nature.”
Not only is this an insightful observation, but also contradiction is the crux of what Ramsey faces. On one hand he feels smothered by Jacqueline (and the ending only reaffirms this) he is also at odds with his own childhood, his memory of it, as well as the bullied boys he knew. The title too—One-Ball, well, you can probably guess what that implies. One reader on Amazon noted the masculinity of this novel, and I agree—this is a very masculine novel and it is this approach that makes One-Ball the success it is. For example, sex and intimacy are dealt with from a distance, and the detachment within Ramsey’s narration offers just the contrast needed when it comes to dealing with events many would label as “traumatic.” I can only imagine how some PC MFA writer would have handled this subject matter. While Ramsey is melodramatic and pities himself in the typical way a young male would, he does not dwell on feelings of victimization. He sort of takes life as it comes, even though he doesn’t always know what to do with it, or how to learn from his mistakes.
Another scene is when Ramsey notes the contradictions of women—on one hand they want men to look at them, but then not:
“They seem to be quite simply born with the assumption that no one has the right to look at them, and that we should all move about with lowered eyes in their presence. How often, even in the middle of normal conversation, have I been told by a woman, ‘Don’t look at me!’?”
Observations such as these give layering to Ramsey’s character, as well as to the novel as a whole. Another insightful point he mentions is with regard to childhood and memory, and how it is never remembered in a linear fashion, or even how more superfluous details can be recalled at greater length than sometimes more “important” life events. Aside from the lyricism Crisp is capable of, One-Ball has a unique structure, using “Notes” to introduce each chapter, and the ending, while not necessarily pleasant—ties back to the beginning.
My criticism involves a few awkward and clichéd phrases that would have been better if left out. Probably the worst sentence is from page 104: “It was the bitter ache in which I read the truth that the most vital parts of Norman’s story would never be told.” The whole line is just cliched from start to finish and reads like something from the back cover of crappy crime thriller. Although lines like these are few, they are weaknesses that should be avoided. Yes, Ramsey is melodramatic and will at times mutter melodramatic statements, but this is in line with his character. He is immature and self-absorbed, but he is also believable and observant. We even empathize with him despite his flaws. Narratively and structurally the book is strong and the lack of mawkishness is something readers will appreciate. “Remember You’re A One-Ball!” offers a unique and well executed glimpse into the parts of the human memory that are not always the most comfortable, and it is for its quality why it merits an audience.
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