Recently published in January of this year, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (what a title, eh?) is described as “The Flamethrowers meets Let the Great World Spin”. Taking place in the span of one turbulent day, it chronicles the intersections between police officers, protesters, and one delegate during the 1999 Seattle WTO protests. Little, Brown and Company | January, 2016 | Hardcover | 306 pp
In this fictitious account, there is Police Chief Bishop who hasn’t seen his runaway son in years, Victor – his brilliant but socially-challenged son who has wandered the world looking for something to fill the void and is now back in Seattle and homeless, John Henry – a disgruntled orphan of corporate layoffs who now practices nonviolent protests, Officer Park – a scarred hero with a quick temper, King – a serial protester with a violent history, Officer Ju – a female officer who tries to stay calm, and Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe – a delegate from Sri Lanka who is accidentally swept away in the crowd of protesters.
When 40,000 nonviolent protesters showed up to shut down the WTO meetings, the situation quickly escalated when rumors of violence against the police spooked those on duty. Protesters were beaten, pepper-sprayed, and tortured, hundreds were arrested. They refused to fight back. Mainstream media erroneously painted a different picture until weeks later when truth came to light. This is partly a story of how those events escalated, but it’s mostly the story of people – the emptiness they feel, and how they can change in the blink of an eye.
The relationship between Victor and his father Chief Bishop is tragic and heartfelt. Victor left home, but not because of an absence of love for his father. There was some other absence, some void, something left over from when his mother died.
“He traveled because he knew he did not belong. The home where he had been born was not his home. Something was missing. From him, or from his home, he didn’t know, and so he wandered.”
Victor’s absence in turn caused the emptiness felt by Chief Bishop.
“When Victor left it broke something off inside him and sent it into the world. His boy in the world and Bishop’s heart like a shadow following him around all his days.”
Actions and consequences. Just as their actions affected each other, the same goes for the rest of the characters on a smaller timeline – in the course of one day.
And then we see the characters change greatly – from one end of the spectrum to the other in many cases. Chief Bishop began the day by meaning to protect his citizens – but by the end he became violent. Officer Park is known for heroic efforts from a past deed, but you wouldn’t know it on this day. Officer Ju is trying to stay calm and collected, until she goes “live”.
The writing style was different – jagged and rough but poetic. But the descriptions were superfluous – over the top. I thought perhaps that the first chapter, filled with its purple prose, was a testament to the author’s talent – a bit of vanity to precede the story. But no – it continued throughout. And for me, it was too much. It needed more story, less reflection.
Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
by Sunil Yapa