by Michael Christie
Paperback, 323 pg.
Read: October 20 – 23, 2015
When he was a toddler, Will and his mother, Diane, moved into a house in rural Canada (somewhere north of Toronto, I think) and never left. I don’t mean that didn’t move to a different residence, I mean they didn’t leave. Diane was a filmmaker — some sort of arty, documentary/montage-type thing — with some psychological issues that got more and more intense until sometime after Will’s birth. By the time he was 2(ish), these issues had pushed her to the breaking point, and she had to retreat to a home that she’d bought with her brother before his death years previous. Diane has some sort of panic disorder and a pretty strong case of agoraphobia — so strong that Will ends up exhibiting most of the symptoms without, you know, actually being agoraphobic.
About 10 years later, Will hears a strange noise in the front yard, and before he knows what’s happening, he’s outside, investigating. Sorry, that’s Outside. Where danger lurks, bad things happen, and people shouldn’t be. He meets a kid about his own age, is mystified by him and drawn to him — mostly because he seems brave, but also, because he’s someone his own age. Within a few weeks, Will is sneaking outside for short jaunts — walking around the neighborhood, looking for his friend. Soon, he convinces his mother to enroll him in school, where he tunes out the teacher, but makes a couple of friends.
From this point on, the book diverges — on the one hand, we get Will’s continued socialization, growth, and maturation. As well as a better understanding of what happened to his mother.
On the other hand, Will and his school-friend, Jonah find themselves adventuring. Jonah’s a very smart kid, on the verge of falling through the societal tracks (like most of the local Indians) with criminal brothers, and a knack for looking graceful on a skateboard. He teaches Will to skate, and how to be less awkward. The two also enact some real Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn escapades, while hunting for Will’s first Outside-friend — which brings them into contact with all sorts of nefarious individuals.
The latter of these two paths is slightly less interesting, and is executed less convincingly — although it’s clearly the more exciting and eventful. It also seems like that it’s Christie’s focus, it’s the core of the story he seems to want to tell. Sadly, it’s not the one I wanted to read (as much), especially because all of it was pretty predictable. I’m not saying it’s not worth reading, but it just didn’t do as much for me as the other stories. Titus, in particular, the homeless man they befriend (for lack of a better word) is pretty entertaining with his frequent Dogberryisms.
Will gets braver and braver, and a little wiser until he comes to the realization that something bad is always going to happen — to you, to someone you love, to someone you know, to someone you read about in the newspaper — it’s just a question of how you live until then. The question is, armed with this understanding: how will he live? Can he help his mother?
Will, Diane, Jonah — are all richly drawn characters (which isn’t too surprising, given the focus on the first two). Many of the supporting characters are about as well drawn — Will’s first school friend, Angela, was great, but I could’ve used more of her (the story didn’t require more of her, we didn’t need more of her). The villains were a bit sketchy, but there were as fully developed as the needed to be to serve their purpose (see again, Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn comparison).
The writing was insightful, and while I wouldn’t want to hold up Diane as a test case for agoraphobia, I really felt like I understood her. I felt the same about Will — I particularly liked the way that his becoming acclimatized to the Outside wasn’t a straight line, or easy growth — but it came in fits and starts, with many steps backward (some brought on by his own insecurities, some by his mother’s). His perspective (especially early on), vocabulary, worldview, and social awkwardness (the nicest way I can put it) all fit someone who’s been locked away from the world and only interacted with a loving, doting mother; television; and delivery men.
Whatever the flaws, this was a really good book, and one I’m very glad it came across my path. Michael Christie is a name I will keep an eye out for in the future.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the nice folks over at Blogging for Books for this review. Not sure they got their money’s worth, but I hope so.