Friday, November 30, 2012

[sic] by Scott Kelly

I love the cover; it's simple and complex at the same time.
It's difficult to find a really well-written book that has a driving concept behind it. Some start with a great idea and others have beautiful prose, but to have both interwoven in one book is a rare, lovely thing. The Age of Miracles is one - the idea that the planet's revolution is gradually slowing sings out with lush phrases.

[sic] is another. The book is about a group of kids who play a game called Eureka, invented by David, the ringleader (more about him later.) In the game, if someone gets tagged "It," they must do something in the next fifteen minutes to completely change his life. Or her life. 

At first the game is simple - a damaged, gorgeous girl gets tagged and kisses a nerdy guy in front of everyone in the school, David switches paperwork between two McMansions. But as things progress, the game and the changes inflicted by the kids themselves become more and more trippy.

That's the concept, and it's a good one. A lesser writer would have created a decent manuscript that tells the story of the kids and the game as a compelling enough read. But this is Scott Kelly, who is a real wordsmith. Look at how he describes Kent's father, the landlord of the trailer park where the Eureka players all live:
Scott Kelly, the author

Kent's dad slept under an awning. Rolls of fat spilled out from the sides of the larn chair. Dad once warned me to stay away from Mr. Gimble - fairly easy advice to follow, because the landlord seemed violent and pissed off at all times.
A sweaty thatch of faded blondhair gave way to fat cheeks and thick jowls. What struck me most was how sad Kent's dad looked. Not mad at all. Just a defeated frown, like he was about to start bawling in his sleep. Like dreaming was torment. Like it hurt to be.
I could guess the cause of his nightmares: the landlord hated being alone with himself.

The narrator is Jacob. He frames the story as he speaks to police, to a youth psychologist, and also to us. [sic] begins with David's death, and throughout the book, Jacob is trying to describe what happened. I dare you to read that first paragraph and not want to find out what happens:

My personal savior is named David Bloom, and presently he's falling about ten stories from the top of a water tower. And my stupid stunned mind; all I can think is that he looks great doing it. Arms spread, fingertips extended, face serene - homicide by stage dive. His body returns to the earth below, the ten-story drop reducing him to a streak of white and blue cloth, brown hair blown back from closed eyes. Maybe he's smiling. Maybe I just like to think so.

By the way - the story is told in the past tense, a big plus for me. I'm not a present tense fan at all. After that first paragraph, the tense switches smoothly to the past, and Kelly makes it work. And the added concept of David's fall (or flight) is extended throughout the book, as Jacob seeks the blame for David's death: "I blame the death of David Bloom on the fact that after the math, David always won. His solar system spun, and we were trapped in its orbit."

David himself is the catalyst, although his influence extends through the other kids. He is attractive: 

David's skin shone against low-hanging sun, wisps of curled brown hair a halo charged by the dawn's light. Never got a haircut his mom didn't give, so it was shoulder-length, in calm curls. 
Angry almond eyes.

The other kids are vivid characters as well. There is Kent, the son of the landlord, who could have been a simple, static character but reveals layers of personality as the story unfolds. Cameron is the damaged beauty, molested by Kent's dad, who kisses Steven, the dweeby guy. There's Emily, the girl who is "all dyed black hair and army boots." She might be one of my favorite characters, even though she is dangerous - perhaps because she is dangerous - she refuses to put up with things as they are. Perhaps it is the reason that she embraces Eureka. The kids are the players : they are called the Six.

And then there is an outsider, Nora - an overweight girl that Jacob falls for. The description of her and the growing relationship between Jacob and the girl who refuses to play the game that takes over the lives of the Six. 

That creates a great tension between her and Jacob, although the other relationships (between Cameron and Kent, Emily and Jacob, and Jacob and David himself) are also explored deeply. 

It's as if Kelly stretches things, so we can see the thoughts and feelings behind the mumbled conversations and making out sessions between the members of the Six and Nora. He finds the "liminal spaces" (read the book to find out what that is) hiding in their interactions.

There were some sections that made me pause. For example, in the second half of the book, when David talks to the Six about his philosophy, he doesn't sound like a teen but a professor. I get that he is supremely intelligent (he paints impressions of music so you can almost hear it) but would a teen kid really say, "Change is the only constant, and so we must constantly change"?

I was also disappointed that Nora became a thin girl. Over the course of the book, she loses weight and shows off her mile-longlegs and her "athletic ponytail." I would have loved the originality if Jacob had continued to fall for her, pounds and all.

However, I must say that these flaws (along with one POV change and one over-compression of events) stood out BECAUSE the book is so good. If that lesser writer had offered the book, these would have been lost, as trash inside a messy trailer gets kicked to one side. In the glowing symphony of Kelly's book, I noticed them because of the beauty of everything else.

And let me mention here, before I forget, the soaring beauty of the grackle image - those birds that pick trash near the trailerpark. They occur throughout the book, and it is a lovely, sustained metaphor.

I would still highly recommend [sic] because of the concept, the writing, the characters - and the amazing ending. The book accomplished that rare thing - it entertained me and made me think, at the same time. 

You can purchase [sic] on Amazon or add it to your Goodreads list.

As well, read more about Scott Kelly's book on Facebook or his author website.

14 comments:

Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thank you for hosting today.

Catherine Stine said...

Sounds like a very creative plotline and rousing read. I'm heading over to Amazon for a closer look.

Scott said...

Thanks for the review! Glad you enjoyed [sic]. Especially glad you enjoyed the way it was written - I think I take more pride in that.

Alison DeLuca said...

Your style is breathtaking, Scott. I really enjoyed the book; it was one of those reads that kept me up past my bedtime.

Donna Yates said...

Wow, I love the idea behind this book. I can see why you enjoyed it. Nice review.

Johanna Garth said...

This sounds like such a good book. Had never heard of it, but now I want to read it!

Anonymous said...
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Christine D. said...

Wow. Your review was the best of the tour! I really liked how you commented on Scott's writing style. I think it was exemplary! Even if the plot was pile of garbage, I think his writing skills would suffice.

Your review was wholesome and well-written. I look forward to reading others.

chrysrawr@yahoo.com

Alison DeLuca said...

Thanks, Christine! Yes, his writing would certainly hold up a thin plot. Since in this case the plot is also intricate and simple (like the cover image) and perfectly crafted, the book is a work of art.

I really loved it.

Ashleigh Clark said...

Wow! Thank you for introducing me to an awesome-sounding book. I can't wait to read it!

bn100 said...

Nice post. The book sounds intriguing.

bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

Suzie said...

Great review

Thanks for sharing

kybunnies -at- gmail -dot- com

Alison DeLuca said...

Thanks so much for stopping in, everyone!

Mary Preston said...

Thanks for such a comprehensive review. I do expect a unique read.

marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com