To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close at hand and make it stand in for the whole.
When I finish a project or some small, self-assigned goal, one of my rewards is gathering a pile of books from my TBR list, usually used paperbacks. For coming-of-age stories, this one had a ton of reviews and, when I spotted it at a half priced books, I snatched it up. It is a brick of a book. Once I read past the day of the tragedy, it started to pick up.
The book follows Theo who, at thirteen, experiences a violent attack which results in the death of his mother. It then follows him from home to home as he hides a priceless painting he rescued from the rubble on the day of the attack. A strong dose of survivor’s guilt along with various coping mechanisms leads him to fabricate a highly constructed persona. We follow him as he struggles to maintain the facade, watching in slow motion as his world comes undone.
This book hit all of my sweet spots: coming of age story, obsession, deeply flawed characters, romance and longing, the search for stability in the chaos. Saying fuck it and embracing the chaos. The illusion of control.
It is heartbreaking in the best way – a way that makes you smile because you remember the drama and perceived finality of decisions made during those formative years. The uncertainty, the terror, the doubt. Perhaps even some bizarre circumstances, deep pain or aching loss. And the lies you keep telling yourself to somehow survive it. When you find your heart aching because of something so beautiful and impermanent. When you thought you had it all figured out and you were dead wrong.
The good: I loved the second act. Perhaps because, unlike the chichi New York world, the dry, abandoned landscape and the recklessness of Theo’s teenage years were far more relatable. The joy and ridiculousness of Boris. The push and pull to run headfirst into the terror and fear and loathing and longing and shame and chaos.
The bad: Far too much information on American antiques and on conversations of collectors and experts discuss the history of this and that. The excruciating detail of the shit on which the Park Avenue characters fixate. Plot points that you could see coming from a mile away, tacked on to grant a bit of sympathy for Theo. For such a long book, it somehow managed to rush through the resolution and then add twenty-or-so odd pages on the impermanence of beauty.