Damn, this book rendered me awestruck.
It’s two am and I just recently finished reading Adam Bagdasarian’s First French Kiss and other Traumas five minutes ago and it’s so good that I’m right away compelled to write my thoughts of the aftermath; it’s been awhile since I’ve last come across a book I couldn’t put down—I’m so busy raising my dead social life from the grave that I could only squeeze in reading during my left over time. But oh, this book just stole my attention and resisted to be put off for later.
For a sheer 134-pager, it’s so concise and brief that it’s almost deceiving. Of course I had the gut feel that this is going to be a nice read when I decided to buy it, but it has been a pleasant surprise to know that I’m wrong; the book is not nice at all—it’s heartbreakingly brilliant. Otherwise, I won’t be stifling laughter while I’m so engrossed reading it in between bites at a crowded Burger King just a few hours ago, or getting all misty-eyed at the end of some chapters towards the end.
And okay, I saw it: there’s painfully too much of me that I could see in this book that I literally pause between pages to ask myself, “Am I reading a book or looking at a mirror?”
The first few chapters were okay, and then came the part where Will, the main character, shares his first ever depression in life—his five-year old self, pondering the melancholy of gumball machines.
“And if there wasn’t the gumball machine, what was there? Days, that’s what. Years and years of days. Days like balls of gum. Days of trees and sky and faces and food. The same trees, the same sky, the same faces, the same food. And the sameness enraged me because there was no escape from it, no alternative to it, nothing to do but sleep and submit.”
Holy crap, he is speaking my language of hate for monotony! At age five!
The book is a faux autobiography of the odd, melancholic childhood recollections of Will. There’s no theme whatsoever but it didn’t matter; I fell in love with Will’s character so head-on and easy. I adored his line of thoughts, his profound way of looking at things, with a frighteningly striking semblance to that of my own. He imagines fictional people and their fictional lives and have fictional conversations with them. He gives every trivial thing in the world a meaning like it’s his life mantra to make metaphors mandatory. Say for instance, here are his ramblings on the injustices of middle school popularity:
I gazed at Sean and the rest of the popular boys in bewildered admiration. It seemed like only yesterday that we had all played kickball, dodgeball, and basketball together; and then one morning I awoke to find that this happy democracy had devolved into a monarchy of kings and queens, dukes and duchesses, lords and ladies. It did not take a genius to know that, upon the continent of this playground, the two Allans and I were stable boys.
I had been resigned to my rank for many months, but now, looking at the two Allans (still arguing over the same three leaf clover), then at the popular boys, I suddenly knew that I could not stand another day at the bottom—I wanted to be part of the noise and the laughter; I wanted, I needed to be popular.
Being ten years old, I did not question this ambition; bit I did wonder how on earth I was going to realize it. Though I only stood twenty yards away from the heart of the kingdom, I felt a thousand miles removed from the rank and prestige of its citizens. How could I bridge such a gap, knowing I might be stared at, or laughed at or belittled to a speck so small that I could no longer be seen by the naked eye?
Sure, he’s far from perfect, if anything, he’s so flawed sometimes. He fidgets, he has a lot of fears and insecurities and all of these he perfectly hides under the façade of his bloated ego. And oh, he knows it well. He’s so self-centered that one of his first thoughts upon coming close to the possibility of a brain tumour, was that he couldn’t die yet because he is destined to revolutionize American Contemporary Fiction before he turns 20. He’s one big dreamer, alright. And so hilarious at so many levels. There were portions in the book that he is so boyishly heartless that I couldn’t stop muttering asshole under my breath, like for example, his thoughts right after breaking up with a girl named Linda from the sixth grade, who sincerely loved him a lot:
I would like to say that I ran after her but I didn’t. I would like to say that I held her in my arms and comforted her until she stopped crying, but I didn’t do that either. I would like to say that we parted that night with a warm and enduring understanding of each other, and that we remain good friends to this day, but we didn’t and we aren’t.
What I did do was watch her run into the house. Then I smiled. I smiled because I had stood my ground because I had had the strength and character to look a girl in the eye and break up with her. So proud was I of my achievement, so sure was I of my irresistible attraction to women that ten minutes later I went back to the party found Ellen Weitzman, and asked her to go steady.
Asshole. Asshole. Asshole. And yet, there were moments when I just wanted to nudge him, give him a giant hug and tell him everything’s going to be okay. And you know what hit home? The fact that his glorious façade crumbles so easily whenever he talks about family. Sure, at one point in his short-lived popularity, he became the heartthrob hotshot and all that. But at home, he’s basically his family’s baby who prays for his brother not to leave for college because he’ll miss climbing trees with him, and the same kid who just wanted to please his dad so bad, it hurts sometimes.
“You know,” his father said, sitting down on his brother’s bed, “sometimes when I get angry at you, I’m really angry about other things. Sometimes something will happen in town or at the office, and instead of yelling about that, I yell about the carrots or the plates or something else. You understand that, don’t you?”
“Yes,” he said, though he did not really understand anything except the feeling of his father’s presence and the tenderness of his voice.
“And you know that I love you even when I yell at you?”
“Good,” his father said, leaning close to him and kissing him on the cheek. “Now go to sleep.”
“Good night, Pop,” he said, and his voice was small because his heart had swelled right up to his Adam’s apple.
And the he was in the dark again, but not alone because his father had been there, would always be there.
And this juxtaposition ain’t the only thing that makes his character great; his flaws make him so real and so vulnerable, at least for us readers inside his head. He’s had epic moments of winning you can’t help but cheer and be proud of his little victories, no matter how shallow they are. And he’s also had unforgettable moments of defeat and loss which oddly evokes in you a sense of respect for him rather than pity.
“Pop’s dead,” she says, and a white flash goes off in your head, and then you are crying faster than you have ever cried or smiled or winked or laughed or blinked in your life. And all at once you see everything—you see what it all means. It only takes an instant, but it’s an eternal instant, an instant that would take years to write. And everything you feel is a forty-wave foot of water, and all at once you are in the wave, being tossed in the wave, and it’s frightening because it’s too strong. The wave can break you like a match stick, and there are waves after this wave, higher and stronger, to break you apart and banish you to a vast unknown. And it shuts off and you are alright again. As fast as it started, it stops. And your eyes are dry and you are smiling. You think everything is alright again.
And that, my friends, is the definition of a great fiction hero—I hated him, loved him, saw myself in him, desired to get to know him and wanted to be like him, too. I must say, I can’t ask for more.