Charlie Martens recounts an ill-fated high school program that haunts him into adulthood.
Clarke (World Gone Water, 2015, etc.) develops the memorable protagonist of his previous two novels while crafting a story that stands on its own. The novel proceeds through two interwoven narratives. In one, Charlie, a junior at Randolph, an all-boys prep school, is selected to participate in a summer leadership program at Garden Lakes, an unfinished housing development in the Arizona desert. In the second, an adult Charlie is a successful newspaper columnist in Phoenix. Undercurrents of greed and self-interest unite the strands of the novel, from the creation of the fellowship on property donated by a Randolph graduate trying to keep it from being seized by the government to Charlie’s career-defining investigative reporting, which sparked legislation but was predicated on deception. There is imbalance and unevenness to the plotlines, however. The present action, narrated in the third person, reads as a series of brief and incomplete interruptions. Yet the distant past unfolds in a strange first-person omniscient. Charlie is largely hidden behind the wide cast of teenage boys whose every thought and action he somehow knows. Nonetheless, it is this dramatic storyline that gives the novel its pulse. As the summer progresses, old and new rifts divide the boys into fighting factions. Abandoned by their advisers and with a heat wave reaching unbearable levels, the structured schedule breaks into fast-paced chaos reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. Charlie, an orphan and transfer student, does not appeal for pity. Still, we see that he is implicated in these events largely in an attempt to fit in.
An intriguing cross-section of loneliness and power in the world of boys and men.