Dad is into jellyfish. Mom is into ants. And the couple’s only child is found dead on a Boston beach.
Shapiro’s freaky first outing moves back and forth in time, but it begins and ends in 1989, with the dead body of 15-year-old Henry Every, the titular Everyboy. He’s the son of Harlan, a dermatologist, and Hannah, a party-planner, who live in the Boston suburbs. Hannah’s first husband was killed, two weeks into the marriage, by a falling air conditioner. Now, as Henry turns ten, Hannah leaves for Holland to raise weaver ants. Harlan quits dermatology and devotes himself full-time to jellyfish, evicting Henry from his playroom to make space for a massive aquarium. He hopes that in time he’ll be able to tame the lethal jellies and have them accept him. Despite his parents, obviously bonkers, Henry is relatively normal, as is his first girlfriend, Jorden, whose mother was killed by a drunken moose. (Death is a constant here.) Soon after Jorden informs Henry of the high rate of suicide among suburban teenaged boys, one of their peers puts rat poison in the apple pie, killing himself and his two siblings, while another kid hangs himself in the gym. But these are deaths without resonance; don’t look for the complexities of Jeffrey Eugenides’s Virgin Suicides. The big event in Henry’s short life is staying with his grandmother in New York, where he meets a girl called Benna and spends the night in her hotel room (Shapiro is coy about the details). Benna hangs out with the Pilgrims, people who find fulfillment in maiming themselves. Eventually, Benna will dump Henry, who will return home to free the jellyfish, meeting his own fate in the process.
Shapiro’s narration is deadpan, affectless: he gives the same weight to curious anatomical facts about humans and jellies as he does to the vagaries of relationships. It may be an unhappy equivalence for fiction lovers.