27 September, 2022

LitStack Recs: Little Failure: A Memoir & The Company

The Company by K.J. Parkerparker

To continue with October’s creepy recommendations…

The characters that populate The Company are, without a doubt, some of the most carefully constructed characters that I have encountered in many a year of avid reading.  Not because they are lavishly described – they aren’t – but because the language used to describe them and their actions is so lucidly brutal.  Even the names – at first difficult, thick with some unknown ethnicity – feel rustically real even in their unfamiliarity:  Kudei  Gaeon, Aidi Proiapsen, Muri Achaiois, Thouridos Alces, and the central character of Teuche Kunessin.  These five men form the legendary A Company (of which army, of which war, we don’t know, and it ultimately doesn’t matter), seasoned fighters who lasted years in a role where most survived weeks, if not days.

At the onset of the book, their war is over.  The men of A Company, these “Faralia boys” (for they all came from the same nondescript township on the same barren coast), had left the military and returned home, except for Teuche Kunessin.  It is Teuche’s return (now a retired general) that sets in motion the main action of the book:  the realization of his dream of the colonization of an abandoned island.  But while the preparations and establishment of the colony on the island of Sphoe serves as the major backdrop of the book, it exists in great part as a hingepoint for the glimpsed stories of the men (and women) that led them to that speck of land.

The land – like the text – is sparse, grim, even bitter.  There is no grace here, and very little beauty.  The beauty that does exist is only a side note, as if glimpsed out of the corner of the eye.  What draws us in is not the anticipatory plot twists (although those do exist), but the sheer force that exists from a complete lack of romanticism.  The men of A Company are strong, bullish, brutish heroes, yet they are far from heroic.  Teuche is brilliant in his ability to manipulate and simple in his need to do so, but he is neither vile nor admirable in his motivations or actions.

It is the bond (or perhaps bondage?) of friendship that holds these men together, but it does not guarantee redemption.  Outside of the tight circle of the Company (and as a part of the Company) there is treachery, and betrayal, and a callousness and hardness that keeps readers at arm’s length.  But we have to be removed, or else we would be horrified at the very warp and weave of the land and its inhabitants.  Yet, while actions and reactions are horrific, horror is not a sensationalistic device at play here.  Lives are devastated as a matter of course.  Shrug and move on, else you will be left languishing on a page that no one cares about anymore.

Still, this is a darkly compelling world.  As a reader, you want to understand why these characters act as they do, think as they do.  And, as with many good literary works, you must have faith that you will learn these things because they are not obvious at the onset.  Unlike other works, however, by the time you reach the midpoint of The Company, you realize your understanding is a moot point.  What remains is being caught up in the sheer experience of witnessing the course of these lives, and their eventual unraveling.  There is no moral here, there simply is the Company.

—Sharon Browning