Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Bonds Between Us

Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne
5Q 3P; Audience: J/S

As far as Phoebe is concerned, it's bad enough that Mom is letting Leonard, their not-really-related cousin come to live with them. The family is already messed up enough, what with Dad living with his girlfriend and Daphne unwilling to spend time with anyone but herself. Who needs an interloper to mess things up even more? It's not like he's old enough for his friends to be potential boyfriend material. But Leonard isn't just there. He's weird. What thirteen-year-old boy wears pink and lime-green plaid Capri pants and platform sandals, pierces his ears, and sings "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" out loud? Not only is Leonard clearly gay, everything about him seems to invite ridicule. Phoebe and her sister Daphne quickly decide that Leonard is on his own.

As the weeks go by, Phoebe can't help but notice that Leonard doesn't seem to mind this. He's almost always smiling and optimistic. Taunts seem to slide over and around him without him ever noticing or reacting. In fact, Leonard seems to go out of his way to connect with people, whether they want him to or not. He's friendly to everyone, even the guys who steal from him. And even though his own personal style is sadly lacking, he has a knack for helping other people choose clothes, hair styles, and make up that not only change their look completely, but sometimes actually revitalize lives. (It rather rankles Phoebe that she's the only one he never tries to change. It bothers her even more when he finally tells her why.)

Phoebe can't afford to let Leonard get too close to her. He sees too much, and he's too weird. So she doesn't truly realize just how much of an impact he's made on the family and on her in particular until he disappears. As the days go by with no sign of Leonard, Phoebe is consumed with finding out what happened. Somebody knows, and she needs to find out who.

It is, in fact, Phoebe who stumbles (more or less literally) on the clues that will provide the answers. But those answers only bring up more questions. Why do we do the things we do? What is mercy? What is justice? Does love automatically mean forgiveness? What makes the bonds between us, and what do we do when they are broken?


I don't have (yet, anyway), a list of my Top Ten books of the year, but if I did, this one would be on it. This is another book where the actual writing (turn of phrase, character descriptions, voice, etc.) was as strong a pull for me as the plot. There were moments I paused just to appreciate how something was phrased, and yet that never pulled me out of the book. I also found myself really appreciating Lecesne's ability to write about (and as) a character who isn't always very nice, yet at the same time make her vulnerable and appealing. Similarly, while the reader can understand why Phoebe finds Leonard embarrassing and odd, it's also obvious that Leonard has special qualities that anyone would appreciate in a friend, had they given him a chance to be one.

I do think that Daphne's storyline is somewhat underdeveloped. When Phoebe mentioned (pretty much in passing) that Daphne had changed a lot a few years ago, I wondered what had caused that change. We do eventually get an explanation, and there is a payoff, but I felt a need for more between Phoebe and Daphne. This is a BIG THING, and it feels unfinished. I had a hard time believing that Phoebe would back away from making Daphne talk about it with her.

There were a lot of passages that caught my attention for various reasons. This is merely a sampling. (If you're looking for quotes for a book report, trust me, you'd be far better off reading the book yourself and finding the quotes that are meaningful to you. These quotes do not necessarily represent the most important themes of the book.)

I read this thing all about how the whole world is actually a pulsing, glowing web of invisible fiber optics that connect one person to another...it said the stronger and truer the bond between two people, the brighter the strand becomes. The more strands, the brighter the overall glow.

I loved these character descriptions:

[Ms. D, the drama teacher] had a small head and tiny features that were all crowded into the center of her face as if each one wanted to take center stage. Her dyed-black hair was cut in a pixie style with mental-hospital bangs, and she always wore bright-red lipstick and a crip, white, man-tailored shirt. If she happened to wear a skirt (a rarity), it somehow looked, on her, like a pair of pants. Her shoes were formidable and could be heard as clear as Frankenstein's when she walked.

Peggy Brinkerhoff was a sweet-faced woman with a gray perm and piercing pale-blue eyes. She wasn't the type to wear high heels, but she was a convincing argument for their invention. In her stocking feet she was barely five feet tall. If it hadn't been for her voice - a voice that seemed to crack and whine and cut through glass - people might not have paid attention to her.

The yearning and sense of loss here is almost palpable:

And now years later, sitting with [Dad], this time in the little apartment he shared with his girlfriend, all I could think of was "quote, unquote." Perhaps what I always wanted from Dad was for him to fill in the quotation marks with some truth about himself or about life or about how two people who have lived their whole lives together could end up sitting opposite each other at a turquoise table on a Monday evening with nothing to say. Had it always been that way? I wondered. I couldn't tell. But this, I thought as I sat there with him, this I will remember.

Regrets, she has a few:

Of course, Leonard wasn't the kind of hero who saved lives; he had never walked into a burning building or battled terrorists on their native soil; and notwithstanding the restyling of Mrs. Barchevski's wig after she lost her hair to chemo, he hadn't created a particular moment of glory that would survive in anyone's memory long after he was gone. Nothing like that. He had simply been courageous enough to be himself in the face of everything that had tried to persuade him to be something else. Despite the fact that I was unwilling to recognize it when he was alive, Leonard's determination to live his life was a desperate act of daring worth of note, if not deserving of actual medals and a VFW picnic.

I think most of us can relate:

But do any of us know what we're doing?...Isn't this rightness, this I-know-what-I'm-doing attitude in each one of us, isn't it just something figured into our DNA so that we won't always be looking over our shoulders, second-guessing and generally freaking ourselves out, because we don't know *anything*? Could it be that survival...depends on the belief that we *think* we know what we're doing? And whether some unseen, all-knowing and omnipresent God has installed this trait into our hard drive or it's the result of a long and drawn-out process of Darwinian natural selection, well, it hardly matters. Chances are that anyone will tell you that they know exactly what they're up to. But do they? Do they *ever*?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Agree? Disagree? Something you'd like to say in response? Feedback is welcome! Just keep it on topic, please. And if you found one of my booktalks and used it, I'd love to know how it worked for you.