"I still struggle with a certain spiritual emptiness myself because of that thing — that beast that’s inside that just wants to be fed, that just wants to be soothed, somehow, by whatever measures possible, sometimes, you know?"
Joel Hynes has been talking with me for about 20 minutes when he names the beast. Hynes, a novelist, actor and playwright, speaks of dark and dangerous things in a soft, slightly weary voice. He is very busy rehearsing his one-man play, Say Nothing, Saw Wood, which is scheduled to open in St. John’s just days after our conversation.
The ""beast" is central to all Hynes’ work. His characters are almost consumed by the "thing that just wants to be fed" — that needs to be fed rivers of alcohol, that needs to be drowned in drugs, anesthetized by sex, shocked still by violence.
Whether in his first novel, Down to the Dirt (Harper Collins $19.95) or his raw new novel, Right Away Monday (Harper Collins $29.95), Hynes takes us to the dark side and doesn’t let us look away.
But somehow he does make us laugh and laugh. Hynes explains that "with Right Away Monday, I didn’t sit down to write a funny book deliberately.
"I just really believe that comedy has to come from a very organic kind of place."
Hynes goes on to say that he never writes "to get a laugh, because obviously I’m more drawn to that darker thing, that tragic side of it.
"And I think what’s funny in Right Away Monday is just the ridiculousness of the self-abuse and the lifestyle and the choice we make. It’s ridiculous."
Hynes knows first-hand. He is very upfront about his own lost years. No boasting, no glory stories, just an admission that he finds it hard, even now that he is grounded and sober. "Just because I’m up and out of it — it’s still going on with people," he tells me, and then continues. "And I’m still walking that fine line myself, you know. I kind of like deal with everyday — the choice between having a good life and moving forward and being healthy and that sort of thing — as opposed to just letting go and going back to that place that almost killed me. You know. It’s a fine line."
What is a fine line is every line that Hynes writes, whether prose or thea-tre. He is a gifted writer; his dialogue so natural as to place you in the middle of a bar brawl, a lover’s quarrel, a head-splitting hangover or a memory.
Here’s Clayton Reid, our anti-hero of Right Away Monday. He’s drunk and stoned and at a beach party outside St. John’s when he decides to go skinny-dipping. He stands, naked, in the cold water.
"I have a vague sense of my legs but it’s like they’re melding with the water and the black, black night, and then that emptiness coats me over and that sound again, that nothingness, that hard disappointing sense of silence like dust settling on a playground after all the children just abandoned their rides at once cause they knew I was comin’. "