Comparing life to water bubbles, this strange existential novel annoys more than it informs.
Somewhere in Canada, an unnamed narrator, musing on the nature of memory, records in a journal an ordinary childhood. Third-person narration captures generic moments–the boy talks with a friend about pirates, the boy plays with his rambunctious dog, the boy wakes up early on Christmas–then alternates with first-person diary entries that cover the same events. It’s an interesting technique, but the author fails to exploit the structure for any effect–ironic, dramatic or otherwise. One chapter glimmers with possibility as the two friends discover pornographic contraband then stumble on the body of a boy lying by the side of the road. By linking sex and death, the author adds complexity to the proceedings, but this unexpected episode proves to be a false start, a development that fades away before it can connect with the larger narrative in any compelling way. Midway through, the protagonist suffers an accident–a fall from the top of a barn–and abandons his diary. The story then morphs into a relationship drama; a trucker named Ted rents an apartment on the family’s property and teaches the boy–now a young man–lessons about life and carpentry. The construction of a doghouse early on mirrors a later attempt to erect a dream home, a device meant to suggest how one builds a life. Instead, though, this blatant literary trick, like so many others in the novel, irks rather than impresses. A sudden tragedy and a final twist explain not only the reason the narrator remains unnamed but also why he stopped keeping a journal. The book ends up striving to be a meditation on fate and existence, but the only effect that lingers is a feeling of being duped.
An unsatisfying coming-of-age story with a finale that makes the entire affair seem just a hokey gimmick.