Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lord Fear by Lucas Mann

Lord Fear: A Memoir by Lucas Mann is a powerful exploration of memory and meaning, of how addiction ripples beyond the addict, and how we try to make meaning even of circumstances that are beyond rational understanding.  The author was thirteen when his brother Josh died of an overdose and he inherited his brother’s notebooks and other personal papers.  Through interviews with people who knew his brother better than he, Mann strives to know a brother who died before they could truly know one another.

Through interviews and excerpts from Josh’s own books, Mann introduces the readers to a young man who is as complex as he must have been in life.  The author interviews several people from his brother’s past, including his own family members.  Instead of merely transcribing the conversations, he takes his considerable talent to imagine the moments that each person remembers, adding layers of emotional and sensory detail that make the memories palpable.  Not only does Josh become more fully realized with each person’s memory but the person sharing the memories become known. 

It is not easy to sympathize with Josh and yet I found myself feeling compassion towards him and his family.  But Mann’s mastery of content is remarkable. He shares the stories with uncompromising honesty. Josh goes from being fascinating to frightening and, at the end, profoundly fragile.  Mann likewise reveals himself throughout, as he tries to draw meaning from his brother’s life and death.  I ached for everyone whose life was touched by Josh as much as I ached for the addict himself. Anyone else writing this memoir, could have tried to achieve what Mann has in this book but would inevitably fall short if not fail altogether. Not an easy book to read but a powerful and profound one nonetheless.   

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick is a young adult novel told in the first person by the titular Leonard Peacock who is celebrating his 18th birthday by packing five things in his backpack before going to school—four gifts for some very special people in his life and a loaded World War II Nazi pistol left to him by his deceased grandfather.  Leonard is preparing to say goodbye but, first, he is going to murder the boy who has been bullying him.

Believe it or not, it is almost impossible not to fall in love with the protagonist in spite of his homicidal intentions and his suicidal ideation.  As he gradually tells his story, we meet the four people who have most deeply touched his lonely life—an old man who lives next door, a fellow student, a young girl, and his favorite teacher who happens to be teaching a course on ethics during the Nazi regime. 

Above all else, Leonard is unique, an unforgettable character whose emotional state becomes something the reader can only hope will improve, that he will find healing.  The complex relationships he has with those he cares for most are only overshadowed by his relationship with his mother, a phantom character at best.  This is not unusual for young adult novels where parental figures are often absent or the young characters are removed from their familial home.  Nonetheless, even though there is one young adult trope, I very much enjoyed this novel and found the ending was gratifying.  I only wish I had read the novel sooner.   
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