A troubled teen takes a nighttime walk in Max Porter’s alluring new novel, ‘Shy.'
On this week’s Fully Booked, Max Porter joins us to discuss Shy (Graywolf, May 2), a slim, powerful new novel from the author of 2016’s Grief Is the Thing With Feathers and Lanny, longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2019.
Set in the 1990s, Shy opens at night, in the English countryside. A teen is walking in the dark, with a rock-filled rucksack on his back, away from Last Chance, a home for “very disturbed young men.” Shy has a brief rough history—“He’s sprayed, snorted, smoked, sworn, stolen, cut, punched, run, jumped, crashed an Escort, smashed up a shop, trashed a house, broken a nose, stabbed his stepdad’s finger,” Porter writes—and the voices of those he’s injured are a chorus in his head, set to the throb of the music he loves best: pulsing, propulsive jungle, heavy on the bass and drums.
Here’s a bit from Kirkus’ review of Shy: “This brief and sometimes oddly lyrical novel is spoken in numerous voices rendered in different typefaces, but Shy’s remains the chief voice even as he is nearly appalled into silence by a chance encounter with death.…Whether Shy will straighten up at the end of this slender tale is anyone’s guess, but, touchingly, even the ‘dangerous young men’ at Last Chance, assumed to be lost causes and incorrigible, encourage Shy at least to come to grips with his feelings. Porter does a fine job of inhabiting the mind of a teenager in ways that may remind readers of David Mitchell’s novel Black Swan Green, with all the confusion and lack of resolution that come with the territory. Laughs most definitely do not ensue, but Porter gets his bumbling, anomic antihero down to a T.”
Porter and host Megan Labrise discuss Shy’s physical state and frame of mind as he sets out on his walk; the character’s relationship to helplessness; what the words look like on the page; how Porter found the right form to tell this particular story; the questions he asked himself about form in relation to the subject; the children’s fantasy novel Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce; the technical and emotional challenges of writing Shy; precision and brevity; the grotesque; and much more.
Then editors Laura Simeon, Mahnaz Dar, Eric Liebetrau, and Laurie Muchnick share their top picks in books for the week.
Lost in Taiwan by Mark Crilley (Little, Brown)
The Labors of Hercules Beal by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion/HarperCollins)
Holding the Note: Profiles in Popular Music by David Remnick (Knopf)
Biography of X by Catherine Lacey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Also mentioned on this episode:
Himawari House by Harmony Becker
A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat
An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Wonderland by Stacey D’Erasmo
In Sickness: A Memoir by Barrett Rollins
Thanks to our sponsors:
The Prophecy of the Heron: An AI Dystopia Novel by Craig W. Stanfill
The Ultimate Investment: A Roadmap To Grow Your Business and Build Multigenerational Wealth by Mark B. Murphy
This May Be Difficult To Read: But You Really Should (For Your Child’s Sake) by Claire N. Rubman
Love Letters From an Arsonist by David van den Berg
Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.