Review: “Hod” by Joseph Bathanti

Bricks
Photo by eyestar via sxc.hu

In the short story, “Hod,” Joseph Bathanti writes with a style that is clear-cut and simple, while not lacking in description. The reader feels the weight of the hod that Fritz must carry during his construction job in the summer after high school. The job is hard work and dangerous. Fritz nearly falls to his death from a piece of rickety scaffolding. Bathanti uses this heaviness to reflect what is happening in the life of the main character, Fritz. He is moving into manhood and must discover not only who he is as a man, but he also learns something about his parents and family.

This short story is discussed in full detail below, so you may want to read it here before continuing.

Bathanti reveals the unusual family dynamic through glimpses into the daily routine of his parents. Where, in many families the mother does the cooking, with Fritz’s parents, “[My father] was also the one who did all the marketing and cooking. My mother never cooked. Never. But it was their arrangement and, mysterious as it was, it seemed to work.” The mother and father are very different and, in many cases, the father takes on the role of the mother. When Fritz falls onto the floor with leg cramps, it was his dad who massaged his legs, while his mother shows little concern over “’All this drama.’” She is more concerned about getting to work on time. Fritz is still on the floor when she says, “’He’ll be alright. We’re going to be late.’”

The reader may have picked up on these subtleties and started to wonder about the father. Fritz apparently hasn’t given it too much thought until one day at work when Tod, a bricklayer, calls Fritz’s dad a “faggot.” Is this the reason Fritz’s mother calls his father a “gutless wonder” and often says that he “wasn’t man enough” to handle a job like carrying brick? Perhaps the mother knows that deep down, her husband is more womanly than she is. He is the one to give comfort to their son and to cook the meals. He is the one who failed to keep the job carrying bricks, what is referred to as “the manhood ritual of the family.” Perhaps it is this fact that leads them to fight so often, to call each other names. Perhaps she fears that Fritz will end up the same way. We know that she is the reason Fritz takes the job in the first place. After Fritz’s first day, she is worried that he will quit and that this will mean he has also failed the “manhood” test. She comes to his room, not to see how he is feeling, but to plead with him: “’Listen. I don’t want you to quit that job with Pat. No matter what. You hear? Do not quit.’”

By the end of the story, we understand more of the family dynamic and Fritz himself. Bathanti reveals the deeper story slowly, letting the reader join in the journey of discovery and come to his or her own conclusions about the family.

My rating: 3 out of 5 = liked it

Various works by Joseph Bathanti are available here.

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