Review: “Ruination,” Ike Hamill

Pros: Intriguing blend of trauma and mysticism
Cons: Slow sometimes
Rating: 4 out of 5

Ike Hamill’s Ruination introduces us to a music journalist who’s looking into an old band called the Brothers Ruination. He finds some intriguing hints as to dark details from their past, but for a while it looks like there just isn’t a market for the story. Then the brothers get back together, drawing in their old band-mates as well, and Ronny and Wilbur decide they want the journalist to write a biography of them. Since the band suddenly becomes a hit again, he even finds a market for the book. The problem, however, is getting any real information out of the two men and their band-mates. Every story seems to have two (or three, or four) different sides to it, and no one wants to talk about what they really saw and heard. The band almost seems to be haunted, and the intrepid journalist finds himself getting drawn in deeper and deeper as he goes.

Fair warning: the brothers’ childhood is horrific and traumatic. There’s fairly explicit child molestation and abuse in here. (Just a detail here and there.) There are off-screen suicides and drug overdoses.

One of the big questions is whether the boys killed their “uncle,” who had custody over them after their parents died, when they were young. There’s also a rather big question of whether the uncle was even entirely human. There’s a fascinating theme of snakes going on, both aiding and harming the brothers, and not all questions are answered where this is concerned. There are hints about a cult, but it very much takes a background to the human questions and traumas. The paranormal is more of an aura, or a means to an end, or an atmosphere. Most of what happens occurs in human terms. Still, it’s fascinating that, for example, when Wilbur wants to get a last-minute gig playing a certain location, the person scheduled to go on that night mysteriously gets bitten by a snake.

One of the aspects I liked the best was the way in which the brothers play off of each other (in a musical sense, and in life). They’re two halves of a whole. They don’t have their musical magic when they aren’t playing together. They nearly speak in their own language when they’re together–half the conversations seem to be left out, leaving others struggling to figure out what’s going on. There’s a story early on about a police officer who tangles with them… what happens to him is never explained. It’s true to the idea of a biographer trying desperately to pull the pieces together but never getting an entirely whole picture, but it does leave one with questions.

Parts of this book were rather slow and I had trouble staying focused during those. Overall, however, this was an interesting and moving book. Difficult to read in places, but original and fascinating.

The brothers had to be recorded together. Their magic existed only in the space directly between them.

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