People don’t expect to meet me. They don’t know they have expectations, but I show them by counterexample what their expectations were.
Lance and Carrie have also had their teenage lives destroyed, but it turns out that they weren’t party to the incident that so dreadfully damaged Sean, but overly eager participants in a post-apocalyptic role-play adventure game, Trace Italian, of which Sean is both inventor and administrator. Carrie’s parents try to prove Sean accountable through the courts, echoing his own parents’ search for meaning in his self-destructive behaviour (p97):
My parents had their own version of it, which was linear; it told the story about me staying up late and reading things and watching things that told me to do something awful, staring too long at the static screen.
Their attempt “to draw some lesson from a place where no lessons were” (p121) contributes to Sean’s estrangement from them, reminding me of Matt’s response to the police’s efforts at meaning-making in Christopher Prendergast’s novel, Septembers.
The novel’s title comes from the supposed satanic messages contained in rock music, audible only if the record were played backwards (p104). It might serve as a reminder of the perils and fragility of adolescence, or perhaps it’s meant as a reflection of the paranoia that has always existed around youth culture. Amid the guns and the gaming, the exploration of fandom and the trauma of disfigurement, I found in this novel one of the most moving evocations of the teenage experience, “a hallway full of doors leading to dark places” (p52), an in between place with a permeable boundary between the real and the imaginary, where meaning is obscure (p107):
I sift and rake dig around in my vivid recollections of young Sean on the floor in summer, and I try to see what makes him tick, but I know a secret about young Sean, I guess, that he ends up telling the world: nothing makes him tick. It just happens all by itself, tick tick tick tick tick, without any proximal cause, with nothing underneath it. He is like a jelly-fish adrift in the sea, throbbing quietly in the warm waves of the surf just off the highway where the dusty white vans with smoked windows and indistinct decals near their wheel hubs roll innocently past.
Thanks to Granta books for my review copy.