Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Every Boy by Dana Adam Shapiro

"For his fifth birthday Henry got two presents that would come to shape his soul. From Dad, a bean-stuffed cow that went moo when squeezed. Henry called it Moo. From Mom he got an inner voice, a grand and booming yes man for each of his stooped shoulders. Gift-wrapped in silver, Great Ovations was a forty-five-minute record filled with nothing but applause from "major moments" of the twentieth century. There was no context for the claps—it could have been a Puccini encore, Willie Mays on the fly in center field, hails for the Führer in Berlin. What difference did it make? The message never muddled, and while Dad thought it was coddling and hollow and bad for a growing boy’s spine, Henry fell asleep to it every night for three years. He even carried a dubbed cassette in his knapsack just in case he needed exaltation on the go."

I'm sorry for being MIA. After not being able to sit through more than twenty pages of the last several books I tried to read (John Crow's Devil, The Edible Woman, While I Was Gone, ect.) I finally found one that grabbed me.

Our main character, Henry Every, is dead. Left behind is his ledger, all entries color coded by category for their subject matter. He’s fifteen, spunkier than even the Holdens of the literary world could hope to be, and maybe a little crazy. Mostly endearing, though, I’d say. Since he grew up listening to the Great Ovations tape during all of his minor moments of triumph it's no wonder that he brings so much drama and self reflection to the plate. We’re guided through the story by Henry’s father Harlan, a man plagued by loneliness with a strange affinity for jellyfish who is both trying to cope with the death of his son and smooth out some major character flaws.

I think what resonated with me the most is how Henry captured the way one experiences being in a constant state of observation with others and the world but not being able to really connect with those people/things that one is observing. Henry articulated those feelings of detachment and longing in a way that seemed very real and very wise for a boy so young. It seems that no matter where he is, he feels displaced. Who doesn’t feel that way at fifteen? Who doesn’t sometimes feel that way now? While I was mostly drawn to Henry's story as he was much more likeable than Harlan, I got rather tangled up in the subplot with what happened with his parents, as well.

I don’t want to give anything away because I think that you should read it yourself. However, I will say this... It has Santeria, teenage death, breaking and entering, a Bulimic dad, family secrets, a girl with one hand, young love, an adventure to New York, and some pretty crazy schemes. Also, Amy Sedaris was a fan, and if you won’t take my word for it you’ll probably take hers. Right? (Speaking of which, I need to to write up I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence, but I'm not sure her kind of cookbook/rambling counts.)

The author is the filmmaker responsible for bringing us Murderball. He’s currently working on a film adaptation of The Every Boy due out two years from now.

1 comment:

Nihil Novum said...

I really like that excerpt. I might check this out.