by Chris Giacca
So who knew that Every Time I Die’s singer and lyricist extraordinaire, Keith Buckley, had the beating heart of a novelist in him? Honestly, anyone familiar with them – and more importantly his stature as one of the finest lyricists to grace the heavier genres – that’s who.
Scale tells the tale of Ray Goldman, a modern-day bard with the vices to match his talents. Goldman regales us with the story of his steady rise to intermediate levels of fame and his subsequent failure to indulge moderately. But there’s more to Scale than your average tale of debauchery and hedonism.
Buckley is well known for his use of metaphor to drive his lyrics in Every Time I Die, and his modus operandi is very much continued in this, his debut novel. (Novella? I don’t have word count figures on hand, but given that it clocks in at 241 pages – with generous page breaks in between chapters – I’m going to guess that it is somewhere in the region of 45-50k words, which pretty much puts it on the cusp of what we consider a novella these days.) His use of metaphor is so ubiquitous that, at times, it can become somewhat distracting. There are several times where Ray gets so lost in his poetic musings that you end up needing to back-track and make sure that what you’re reading is actually happening. This is also true of the dream sequences – Goldman suffers from sleep apnea, and his depictions of sleep paralysis are vivid and compelling. I do feel as though once you’ve gotten around 50-70 pages in, your brain will automatically reconcile what is and what isn’t, so it’s not that disorientating.
Scale is certainly a pretty read. Buckley has a wide vocabulary, a rather philosophical way of viewing the world, and he marries the two admirably. He does have a tendency to overindulge in run on sentences – some of which I would guess run damn close to 100 words – but for the most part, it is in service to a cause, and he is consistent within that cause.
From the opportunistic, boorish Frank, to the zen-like persona of Evan, even to Goldman’s long-suffering wife Hannah, the characters are well defined, and possessed of a realness that is uncommon, particularly among debut novelists. Not once was I taken out of the moment when dealing with any of the characters that Buckley brings to life with care. Goldman himself is the best example of this, with his frequent, self-aware introspective dialogue, although almost all of the characters are treated to moments of clarity, weakness, and development. By the end, you really have a feel for everyone.
Looking at the broader picture, the title seems to be a metaphor for the parallel narratives that Buckley develops in alternating chapters, once the initial divergence happens a few chapters in. There is a lot of talk of balance throughout – what is, what isn’t; indulgence, and restraint; deep-wrought emotional conflict, and baser physical indulgence. Indeed, Scale fits nicely in amongst the modernist literary fiction of Palahniuk, Bukowski et al. by concentrating more on character conflict and development, than plot-driven narratives.
To sum it up, Scale is a fascinating insight into how one of our most treasured lyricists sees the world. Any number of Goldman’s anecdotes could very well be lifted from the annals of Buckley’s considerable life experiences, and the story benefits from it greatly. You would almost swear that it was a biography if you didn’t know any better, such is the candid story telling mastery of Buckley.
4 / 5