As Tony Webster reflects back on his life, he begins his account with his early days in high school, describing his friendship with a small group of lads who considered themselves cynically intellectual. When a newcomer, Adrian, joins their group, they realize that he is truly the superior of them all, and they subtly vie for his approval, though each would deny it fully. What distracts them from their everyday rhythm, however, is the news of a suicide by a fellow classmate. This, they feel at the time, is a truly brave philosophical comment on life itself. What Tony doesn’t realize is how he will come to understand this very differently as he ages, as he gains understanding and experience. But will he ever gain true wisdom?
This is one book that I may actually go back and reread at some point, in order to fully appreciate what it has to teach me. There is so much to unpack here in this short yet deceivingly rambling novel. Tony mulls and overthinks and constantly questions his past, sharing and reexamining details, pondering the reliability of memory itself. We’re not clear why it all bothers him so, as it seems all to be benign enough, so much the typical male adolescent bravado. Even his relationship during college with Veronica, while hard to understand given her cold and disparaging manner, we attribute to his naivety and we applaud him for moving on from her when he finally does. We come to know his overly sensitive and analytic nature, his coming to terms with his own mediocrity, and what he sees as his inability to effect change in others.
What we – and Tony – don’t see until it’s very late is what we should all know: our words impact others always. Our relationships and how we conduct them have consequences always and our actions have a ripple effect much in the “butterfly effect’ analogy. We may not know what they are now, we may never know what they are. But they are there. I believe this is the message of this novel, delivered in its final twisty pages.
The writing here is a bit ponderous but it’s as if you’re walking along the beach and if you’re looking, you find the shells and pearls of wisdom if your eyes are open to them. It feels as if each word is intentional, each fact placed where we are meant to find it. In this way it builds so that we are as flummoxed as Tony, then, by the ending.
Perhaps not a MUST READ, but I highly recommend this to those of you who are more philosophically inclined. Also to those of you who enjoy a surprise!