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"The bumblebee flies anyway"--and so too the life-sized model car, which Barney finds and dismantles in a nearby junkyard to reassemble in the attic, will ride. . . straight off the roof of The Complex, the institution where terminally ill teens are receiving experimental treatment. Barney conceives the car project largely for wasting Mazzo, rich and handsome but bitter, who wishes to "go out in a blaze of glory" and asks to be unplugged. But Barney has really taken an interest in Mazzo because of Mazzo's beautiful twin sister Cassie, and she in turn has a special interest in her brother's condition: for years she has noticed that when he is hurt, she feels it in her own body. (When he dies, then, what about her?) But Barney doesn't know about Cassie's "thing" or the reason for her increasing headaches; and only well along does he discover that he himself is not a "control" but one of the dying, like Mazzo and Billy the Kidney and the others. Those fragmented, nightmare memories he can't track down have been created for him by the doctors, to screen out the real, unacceptable memories of how he came to the institution. Until this discovery there are unexplained flashes, sinister-sounding treatments, and references--to "the handyman" and "the merchandise," Barney's terms for the doctor and the medicine--which seem more mysterious than they are. This air of ambiguity and vaguely totalitarian menace, a common thread in Cormier's fiction, sometimes seems a little contrived and arbitrary here, but it is far from inappropriate to a patient-inmate's view of hospital life. And if that final triumphant push of the car, with Mazzo dying on the roof in Barney's arms (Barney comes out of remission and dies soon after), is a little clichÉd, it is not sentimentally rendered as it might be in other hands. All in all the novel hasn't the consuming, focused tension of previous Cormier YAs, but that is not to deny its crisp, sure craftsmanship, suggestive applications, and holding power.
Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1983
ISBN: 044090871X
Page count: 258pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1983


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