Monday, May 21, 2012

Sometimes Size Does Matter

Kill Switch
Everyone thinks of their grandparents as those innocuous, cookie making, gray haired oldies who always make you feel better when things aren't going well. But what if your grandmother or grandfather had a dark past? And what if that dark past is coming to the surface now that they are suffering from dementia? In Chris Lynch's short novel Kill Switch, he explores just such a terrifying issue.

Daniel is going off to college in the fall, so he wants to spend as much time with his grandfather, Da, as possible. Da's Alzheimer's or dementia makes their "quality time" less quality and more spotty. Still, Daniel has always had a soft spot for Da and is willing to cope with his bad moments for those few, brief, clear moments. When Da starts saying weird things, Daniel just attributes them to the dementia, but the arrival of his past coworkers tips Daniel off to the fact that Da may not have worked in the government's agriculture department as he previously told them.

With Da more agitated than usual, Da, Daniel, and Daniel's stoner cousin Jarrod take off on a road trip to nowhere. They have no destination and no real purpose, but Da seems to think they are being followed, so they continue on. Meanwhile their family is home fretting about their whereabouts. But when the trip hits some strange snags, they worry that Da might be right about his past, and they might be in real danger. But the worst danger might be that Daniel has the ability to follow right in Da's footsteps.

A novella or short novel is a funny thing. It is significantly short than most novels (under 200 pages), but longer than a short story. It has the need to be clear, quick, and concise like a short story, but it has a little more wiggle room like a novel. Still, a short novel has to be pretty lucid in order to accomplish what larger novels do in 400-500 pages. Chris Lynch is usually a master at this, but sadly, he failed miserably with this novel for me. I was stoked to read this book; I mean, the premise is just awesome! But in execution? It really didn't work. The writing was first person narrative, which I usually enjoy, but it was very... how do I put this... nebulous? It was unclear and unfocused and shifted too quickly without any transitions. I found myself flipping back a lot because I missed things despite usually being an attentive and careful reader. It wasn't me, though; it was the strange way tis book was written.

Writing style aside (and mind you, this is not the usual style Lynch writes in, at least from the books I have read), the characters weren't important enough to me either. You had a young boy who loved his Alzheimer's patient grandfather... you want to love this kid, right? Nope. He was odd, punchy, and there was something to him I didn't like that I still haven't been able to put my finger on. The cousin Jarrod was just a putz, but the way they treated him was strange and grating at times. Then comes Da, who you should have sympathized for, and you did... sometimes. The rest of the time I found myself wondering what the hell was going on, and by the time I figured it out, I didn't care anymore.

I am sad to say I wouldn't really recommend this book to my students. I think they would get too lost in the strange storytelling to get anything out of the book, which is frustrating to any reader (including myself). I am sad and surprised to see this caliber of book from Lynch. Usually he nails the short novel and I love them for my emergent, older readers who need a short but fascinating book. maybe next time, Chris Lynch. Maybe next time.

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