In Poe’s (The Long Forgetting, 2016, etc.) dramatic novel, a drifter and a wayward teenager find common ground at a boardinghouse for people with disabilities.
Truman Birdsong has been moving from job to job, tarred by an ex-wife’s false accusation of child molestation. After the Weeks brothers, who own a local plant, renege on a promise of employment, Truman gets an offer from Parfit, an enigmatic older man, who says that Mercer, the owner of a boardinghouse for the disabled, is in need of a hired hand. The few who reside at the boardinghouse include Julius Rose, whose curved spine gives him a perpetual hunch, and Aiden Burns, who’s been blind since the age of 10. Parfit also brings in 13-year-old Nicolai Tate, whose mentally ill mother is in the hospital and whose father is in jail. Both Truman and Julius are wary of having the boy at the boardinghouse, particularly as he’s clearly avoiding a probation officer. But the real threat comes from the locals, who treat the boarders as pariahs and may have formed their own militia group. It turns out that the Weeks brothers have a cache of weapons to arm such a group—and may also have eyes on the boardinghouse’s land. Parfit makes a cryptic prediction, implying that Nicolai is in danger. Although Poe touches on serious, real-world subjects, such as violent “antigovernment types,” the story also has an otherworldly overtone. Parfit, for instance, seems to have unexplained abilities—at one point suddenly appearing just when Truman and Nicolai need help. Aiden’s odd, verbose speech is an endearing quirk: “You need a moment to think…a moment and no more, no, not a bit,” he tells Julius. There’s a clearly developed theme of fatherhood throughout; Truman, like Nicolai, has an estranged dad, and it’s hard not to see Truman becoming a paternal figure to the teen. The romance between Truman and Kennis McDuff, Nicolai’s probation officer, is also welcome, although that relationship pales in comparison to the bond between the boardinghouse denizens.
A playfully surreal but enthralling story of society’s castoffs.