A troubled teen menaces his sleepy town by deliberately starting major fires.
Zeke Titcomb is an awkward, portly 15-year-old pulverized under the weight of social alienation. His father, Eben, is tyrannically boorish and abusive, and his mother, Peggy, is interminably sheepish in the face of his dominance. His sister, Michelle, both beautiful and smart, rebels against Eben through wanton promiscuity. Zeke’s both tortured and ignored by his peers. He is painfully private, concealing his emotions as they simmer over time into a roiling boil. He decides to set his own school on fire and delights in the feeling of power the act of destruction brings him. Zeke makes arson attempts on other schools and a warehouse and then turns his attention to private residences, until he finally burns down his own home. Chaldea, Maine—a small, failed paper-mill town—is yanked out of its peaceful slumber by Zeke’s reign of terror. Word gets out that Chaldea is essentially under siege, and a reporter from the Boston Globe visits to investigate. Zeke glories in the combination of anonymous cunning and empowerment he experiences: “I would never threaten anyone. How can I? I’m invisible.” Eventually, Zeke is apprehended by the authorities, who are chilled to the bone by his steely remove. A court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Proctor, struggles to get Zeke to open up, and finally he finds his voice while writing in a journal. Proctor enlists the aid of two figures Zeke admires, one a librarian and the other an English teacher. Will Zeke finally allow a modest portal into his distempered mind? Cappella (Gobbo: A Solitaire’s Opera, 2005, etc.) leaps back and forth from the unfolding drama to Zeke’s journal entries, poignantly depicting the adolescent rage that snowballs within him. Zeke’s angst regarding his sister is especially complex and affecting: he’s embarrassed by her exploits, hurt they’re not closer, worried she’s squandering her talents, and sadly reminded by her of his own failure with the opposite sex. The author intelligently resists any neatly delivered conclusions—this is a thoughtful, serious, but less than inspirational tale that realistically captures the chaos of teen disaffectedness.
A disturbing but unflinching look at youthful disquiet.