Glass Boys by Nicole Lundrigan totally took me by surprise. When I was offered a spot on its blog tour, I took quite a while to decide in the affirmative. Its blurb makes it sound like more of a mystery/thriller than the literary fiction I seem to prefer (actually, it's quite literary, thank you very much). It's from a Canadian publisher that, as far as I know, is new to me (but maybe just because I live in a hole). I had no idea Newfoundland had a dialect (see above RE: hole dwelling), but apparently it does, and so, therefore, does the book (hit or miss much?). I worried so much that I wasn't going to like it, and I was selling out my quest to take no chances with review copies. Getting to the point, though, I need not have worried. This might well be the best stuff of my reading year!
And Wilda considered then they weren't as fragile as she often imagined. They weren't made of thin clear glass. If she opened her hands, let them go, they wouldn't shatter on the floor. Surely, they wouldn't. In the golden moonlight, she saw that each one was just enough for the other.
In the opening pages of Glass Boys, abusive, angry Eli Fagan, discovers his stepson, Garrett, is hiding an unspeakable secret. At the same time, Lewis Trench, the newly appointed constable of Knife's Point, Newfoundland and his brother Roy are getting drunk on potato whiskey. The two families cross paths in one fateful, accidental moment, and Roy Trench is killed. The incident is ruled an accident. Eli Fagan returns to his wife and stepson and eventually has two daughters. Lewis Trench meets a woman in a curio shop after the trial and takes her home to Knife's Point to be his wife. The couple have a pair of sons, sensitive, eager to please Melvin, and Toby, a less thoughtful but more enthusiastic boy. Though the two families attempt to avoid each other and their shared sordid past, the past can't be escaped, and the years never seem to ease the pain and anger between the two men, until the incident's echoes reverberate into a new generation.
Glass Boys takes some getting used to. For starters, Newfoundland has a dialect and Lundrigan has taken care to reflect it in her writing. There are s's on the ends of words where every fiber of a sensible reader's being supposes there shouldn't be. Lundrigan's prose relies on sentence fragments for emphasis. The first few chapters are, as a result, confusing and a little hard to digest.
Once the first few chapters are past, however, a profound, if dark, multi-layered story emerges. Lundrigan's characters are richly drawn and haunted by the secrets of their respective pasts which are spread out before us like a breadcrumb trail to an unexpected destination. Lundrigan's story is undeniably gritty and doesn't shy away from the worst things the human heart has to offer, but at the same time, just the tiniest trace of magic runs through Lundrigan's tale, just a tiny trace of hope that the younger generation might just be able to untangle the knot of hate that binds the two families together, however they might try to avoid its legacy. The feeling that redemption seems to always lie only a page away makes this literary work unputdownable.
Despite its darkness, Glass Boys is likely my favorite read of the year thus far. Lundrigan's story is, at times, hard to read, simply because of its subject matter, but she gives voice to her characters so well that even when they are flawed and loathesome, they still attract our sympathy, except, of course, for the one that doesn't quite. Mostly male characters figure in Glass Boys, and Lundrigan proves herself remarkably adept at portraying thoughts, feelings, and actions even from across the gender divide. In my experience dark stories rarely have satisfying ends, but Lundrigan defied my experience ending the book in a way that doesn't trivialize the rest of her story by wrapping up too easily but also doesn't neglect the catharsis we crave after having our hearts broken along with the characters we've come to care for deeply. Highly, highly recommended.
(Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.)
Seriously, I'm so impressed with this book, ergo I was very excited to find out that the author's publicist is providing a copy for me to give away. This will help me get started in my quest to get everyone to read this book. ;-)
If you'd like to win a copy, and have a US or Canada address (no PO boxes), please leave a comment with your e-mail address by 9/17, midnight EST. I'll draw a name at random, and e-mail the winner. (And next time I'll learn to use one of those fun Google Docs forms. Promise.)