An adolescent orphan writes a glossarylike “key” to his life in Reed’s astute, experimental, and very affecting debut.
William Tyce’s key begins with ABSENCE and proceeds in roughly alphabetical order through such terms as BABY MEMORIES, BOATING IN BASEMENTS, COURAGE, FAULTY WISHING, GYPSIES, MORTAL BETRAYAL, and PHILOSOPHY OF NIHILISM. Abandoned by his parents, living in his uncle’s mansion in a city in the Midwest, William’s life, as he projects it onto these pages, is an eccentrically human alchemy of loneliness, boredom, jealousy, nostalgia, brutality, and folk mythologies; and his insights range from beautifully perceptive (“the brain lives on patterns the way a blade of grass lives on sunlight”) to darkly humorous (“put a nail through a lemon, whip it out the window of a treehouse, bean a kid with it—that kid will probably move on”). We learn that BETTA FISH “can cure you of nightmares if you hold them in your mouth for ten seconds each night before you go to sleep,” and that a “Daddy” is “a false authority,” and if one tries to climb into your treehouse, you will have to “beat on his fingers with a hammer.” Grim? Indeed. There is much darkness in poor William’s ledger, especially as—moving down the alphabet—his life veers toward narrative, forsaking the static sadness of his youth. First, William’s uncle—“the authority on high-stakes gambling”—is arrested for arson and insurance fraud, leaving him without a caregiver (see LIVING IN BUNKHOUSES FOR GIRLS AND BOYS WHO ARE WARDS OF THE STATE). Then he runs away, living under a bridge and taking up drinking. He feels increasingly like “the world [is] a chaotic soup in which [he’s] slowly being boiled.” To do something, he eventually builds a raft and casts off downriver (see NEBULOUS PLANS). The life that follows necessitate glossary entries like MYSTICAL VISION, NEAR DEATH, OCCUPANTS OF HOLDING AREAS IN RURAL JAILS, PURPOSE, REVELATION, TEMPTATION, and more—all the way to YONDER, THE WILD BLUE.
Crisp and lyrical, emotionally assured, delightfully inventive—Reed has made a marvelous debut.