this book surprised me, in a good way. i don’t know what i thought it was going to be, but i definitely wasn’t expecting what i got. and i like that i can still be surprised by books, this far along in my reading career.
it’s the story of two brothers, patrick and mike, whose father is in jail after he killed a little boy when he was driving drunk. it’s the story of mike’s live-in girlfriend caro, whose desperate trapped boredom in her housewife-without-the-ring life leads her into patrick’s bed one night. it’s the story of layla and verna, two sisters whose ultra-religious parents (no sex ed in this school, kids!) lead them into typical teenage rebellion that quickly escalates into a dangerous place when they come under the sway of a charismatic and sociopathic boy. but mostly it’s the story of how quickly things can spin out of control when impulsive decisions are made without considering or understanding the motivations or expectations of others. especially when people are as fucked up as the characters in this book.
i said i was surprised with this book, and i meant not only that i was surprised by the story’s arc, which i was, but what most surprised me was where my sympathies as a reader ended up, and also with how subtly and perfectly patrick’s character was written. you would think i would have felt the most affection for the 17-year-old gothed out lolita/layla, but for her i felt pity and dismay, with no love at all. caro was my favorite, and she managed to redeem the name for me – a still-young waitress who comes home defeated every night smelling of fish to tend house for two overgrown boys without ambition or prospects for excitement
And even as she thought that, Mike was in the kitchen, wasn’t he, filling up the red cooler that lived next to the armchair in the living room with beer. She could hear the clatter of ice, the muted clink of beer cans. Caro hated that cooler. The uncleanable (she’d tried) pebbled surface of the thing, the old man’s name written in huge Magic Marker letters on the side; the way that Mike sometimes came home with a bag of ice and a case of beer and she would instantly know that once again they were going nowhere, once again they were staying exactly where they were.
that cooler, leaching a steady, constant trickle of despair, made me sadder than almost anything in this book. and caro’s exhausted brave face in her circumstances quivered my cold black heart.
but the real star here was the atmosphere. she captured the small hopelessness of the town perfectly, with its molasses-futility of existing without living. its tone reminded me a lot of out of the furnace, which was a very mediocre movie with a great cast, whose strength is its powerful sense of location; a dying town whose inhabitants are trapped in their small lives going nowhere, day after day.
utterly bleak and nearly perfect.
my only real complaint is that layla doesn’t read like the same character in “her” chapters as she does in the patrick or verna chapters. and it’s not simply a matter of different perspectives – her dialogue and actions just don’t mesh, even with the latitude i allow for the naturally inconsistent behavior of a troubled teenage girl still trying to figure out who she is.
but quibble, quibble. this is a great one, particularly for someone like me, who skews dark.
read it and weep.