In Anker’s series starter, the fates of two families collide in South Dakota.
Ramsey Wade’s parents died in 1974, when he was 4 years old, and ever since, he’s lived a nomadic existence, governed by his brother Carl, who’s 11 years his senior. Carl is brilliant—he reads and writes constantly, has some kind of publishing career, and speaks multiple languages—and he’s acted as a tutor to Ramsey, who’s never attended school. Ramsey is also an intellectual prodigy—advanced beyond his years in most academic subjects and virtuosic with a violin. However, Carl is mentally ill; he slips without warning from one distinct personality to another, including some that are brutally violent. Ramsey has a hard time adjusting to school life, as his genius alienates him from others, as does his lack of mundane experience—a point that Anker (Brothers, Part III—Spring, 2018, etc.) doggedly hammers home. (At 14 years old, for example, Ramsey has never encountered spaghetti.) In orchestra class, Ramsey befriends Jeff Lofton, whose family circumstances are implausibly similar to Ramsey’s: He was raised by his older brother, John, in the aftermath of his own parents’ premature deaths. Jeff is also something of a social outcast—talented but socially clumsy. The two quickly become friends, and Ramsey finds it increasingly difficult to conceal signs of abuse and neglect as Carl spirals deeper into madness. Anker’s tale has the feel of a fairy tale for teens: imaginatively inventive and dramatic but squarely implausible. She ably braids multiple storylines and a considerable cast of characters into a single, novelistic tapestry, and there’s hardly a lull in the fast-paced plot. However, it’s never clear who the intended audience is; the principal themes can be disquietingly grim, while the lightweight prose seems directed to readers in their early teens. Also, the story expresses a peculiar fascination with corporal punishment; John frequently spanks his teenage brothers, and the school’s vice principal does so to students, as well. In what American high school does an administrator physically discipline students in this day and age?
A strange and frustratingly far-fetched story.