I was kind of taken aback by how sad I was at the end of this book. I didn't expect it, especially not with such a likable, funny narrator such as Blake.
It's his personal goal to make people laugh each day, and he's devised a point system for the number of times he succeeds. He succeeded with me several times (I'm totally making crap on toast! a regular part of my vocabulary), especially when he's floundering to understand his girlfriend Shannon's mood swings and temper triggers. When she winds up in tears after Blake confesses he's worried about his friend Marissa, this is how Blake describes the turn of events:
These were my exact words: "I'm worried about Marissa. She was getting hammered at the game. Again! I hope she's not turning into an alky."
A slow but steady undertow of misunderstanding proceeded to drag my ass out to sea.
Shannon analyzed each word out of my mouth, then deconstructed the meaning behind my words, searching for hidden code in those innocent little sentences. By the time we go to Juke's she was sniffling. All our friends fled to safety, leaving us alone on our raft of tragedy.
Hee hee hee. As a girl, who isn't guilty of the sentence deconstruction game? I had to laugh because I felt for poor Blake. He may not be prone to lying, but let's face it: if that were true for the majority of the male species, the deconstruction game wouldn't exist. Us gals are always assuming the worst.
Although in this case, if I'd been assuming the worst, I might not have felt so unprepared for the way the story unfolded. It was the opposite of what I'm used to. Normally I go for the stories that start out conflicted, and wrap everything in a nice, neat bow at the end. Here, not so much.
In fact, for a long time, it doesn't seem like much is happening. Blake's life is fairly normal, despite the fact that his father cuts up dead bodies for a living, and has a bad habit of leaving photos or tools from his work lying around on the kitchen table. I loved that his parents are quirky and happily married, that he has a love/hate relationship with his brother, like so many siblings. I loved how smitten Blake was with Shannon, and actually said awww when I read this passage:
Shannon is everything I want. I thought she would be like the starter kit girlfriend for me, you know? After I figured out where things go and how they work, I would take my skills with me when I moved on to the next level.
But right now I can't imagine ever meeting anyone more perfect for me than this girl.
See? Awww! But somehow, in between the humor and the warm fuzzies, everything unraveled right under my nose. Blake's friend Marissa is living a troubled life, and Blake's attempts to help her wind up turning his own life upside down. I won't give anything away, but the scene where Shannon finds his camera absolutely broke my heart.
Photograpy is used as a metaphor throughout the book, and the word chiaroscuro crops up more than once. It's Italian, literally meaning "lightdark" (YES! Italian vocabulary now up to 5 words!), and in photography it means using both elements in one composition. Blake finally magages to find the "heart" in his normally "gritty" photography by using the light and dark moments of Marissa's life in a photo montage. L.K. Madigan did exactly the same thing in this book: slowly eclipses light with dark until you're thinking crap on toast! What just happened here?
BUT, there's definitely a ray of hope in the end. We know Blake bounces back, sense of humor intact. It's not said in great detail, but we know he'll move on. It's obvious in his comment on the song "The Animals were Gone": This is the perfect sad song. Big wall-of-sound sorrow, with strings and shit.
LOL. Deep, Blake. Very deep.
I would definitely recommend this book, and in the wake of L.K. Madigan's recent passing, I am saddened that she won't be around to put out more great stories like this one. Unfortunately, life really is a mix of light and dark. The fact that she managed to capture her characters and her story so beautifully and have them immortalized in publication is an enormous bright spot. But the death of someone who could create a character like this one is an undoubted darkness.
I can't end on somber note, though. Speaking of immortalization and tragedy, let's talk about this tragedy: the immortalization of the unibrow of the dude on the cover, the one who's supposed to be Blake. That poor boy will be forever wondering why no one introduced him to tweezers before his big photo shoot. A definite score on Blake's laugh-o-meter, but a definite deduction of points from me!