A meditation on grief, guilt, and survival; King’s most challenging work to date.
Stanzi and her friends are damaged high school seniors in Pennsylvania, struggling to forge connections with one another and the often hostile world beyond. Gustav is building an invisible helicopter in his backyard. China’s mother is “the neighborhood dominatrix.” And Lansdale is a compulsive liar. School life is grim, dominated by safety drills, standardized tests, and an erratically high volume of bomb threats. Amid the disruption, there is also a naked man living in a bush who, in a series of surreal exchanges, sets each of the teens in motion. The intricately constructed narrative is deeply disorienting, not only because the narrators are all openly unreliable, but because the events they describe occupy a gray area bounded by personality quirks, mental illness, and magical realism. Coupled with repeated references to such real-life events as the Newtown and Columbine shootings, as well as the fictional violence inflicted on the main characters, the novel is, at times, a grueling march through a gallery of traumas. But as with Please Ignore Vera Dietz (2010), King’s choices are neither gratuitous nor exploitative; when crucial details start falling into place around the halfway point, readers who hang in that far are rewarded with the self-actualization of finely wrought characters.
Heavy stuff, as the title implies, and absolutely worthwhile. (Fiction. 14 & up)