This is a very sharp-edged multiple coming of age novel. No Tom Sawyers here. Brian Lackey (and can’t you tell what sort of person he is by his name?) wakes up in the crawlspace under his home one midnight when he is 8 years old, bloody, with no knowledge of what had happened to the last five hours. Neil McCormick, afflicted with a floozy of a mother, finds a Playgirl under her bed one day, and realizes that it speaks directly to his undefined yearnings. He goes on to commit some terrible crimes under the influence of the evil Coach. Wendy Peterson has a crush on Neil and will follow him anywhere, which is definitely not a good thing. Brian’s older sister, Deborah gets a voice late in the book as well. Eric Preston is attracted to the adolescent Neil and becomes involved with him. There is plenty of darkness to go around in Kansas of the 80s and early 90s, drunken abusive fathers, loose women, child molesters, adolescent hustlers and their clients, unspeakable cruelty to the helpless, and even a UFO. It made me uncomfortable at times reading this. I stuck it out because the diversity of views made the story-telling interesting. Heim has skill to go along with what must be a closet full of personal demons. This book was a bit overloaded with the horned creatures, but the skill still shone through. Events here occur on Halloween, although Heim stretches to include it, as the primary event occurs during the summer. It seems an afterthought that he creates a second event on Halloween for Brian. It seems as if he is trying to force his events into a structure regardless of how such stuffing affects the logic of the narrative.
There is some compelling referential imagery, as in when Brian is attempting to recover his lost time as a late teenager and is watching a scene from the Exorcist in which Regan’s stomach displays the words “Help me.” Second hand it may be, and perhaps a bit forced, but I thought it was ok here.
There is a seminal (yes, intended) scene late in which Neil is hustling in New York and is taken by an abusive john, raped and thrown away. It is meant to evince the damage done by Neil and Coach to the young boys they used, including Brian. Neil undergoes his change. Not all the characters grow here. Brian does, Neil does.
This was an engaging, if uncomfortable read. While the subject matter was harsh, the author’s talent shines through.