Saturday, April 19, 2008
Lecesne, James. 2008. Absolute Brightness.
I was stalled in aisle 7 of our local supermarket, musing over the selection of potato chips and saying something like, "But really, don't you think thirty-seven different types of chips is a ridiculous number to choose from? I mean, how did we end up living in a country that makes a big deal over everything squeaky-clean and then at the same time makes you pay extra for chips called 'dirty'?"
Phoebe's life changes--both for better and worse--when her cousin, her gay fourteen-year-old cousin, Leonard moves into their basement. Phoebe has never met anyone--ANYONE--like Leonard before. He's so completely crazy-unique. He instantly annoys and embarrasses her all at the same time. The way he dresses. The way he talks. The way he carries himself. The way people treat him. He charms and flatters many folks--he's got them wrapped around his finger--but for others Leonard represents everything they hate. Not everyone loves Leonard. And a few people HATE him.
Phoebe's mother owns a beauty salon. And believe me, Leonard is in HEAVEN when he's there. He talks and charms up on the ladies--young and old--when he's there. He loves, loves, loves giving makeovers. Hair. Makeup. Fashion tips. If you want to look fabulous, Leonard's your boy. He has a gift, an instinct in bringing out the best in people.
But Leonard's very existence brings out the worst in others. Not everyone likes the loud and flamboyant and so-very-out-there ways of this young boy. Being gay and proud and ultra-unique isn't a way to make friends your own age.
Phoebe. Dear, poor Phoebe is caught between loving him because he is so good at seeing the good in people. He's a genuinely good, nice, sweet person. But he embarrasses her. He annoys her. Life was so much easier before he came to live with him. Life pre-Leonard was so uncomplicated. And she's just a tiny bit jealous how much attention he gets from everyone.
Complicated. That's what Phoebe's life has become. Her mother, her sister, her cousin, her best friend, her sometimes kissing-partner but never quite official boyfriend, her father. Every relationship becomes messier afterwards. After what? Well, the jacket says it all...Leonard disappears suddenly...without living a trace...almost. And it is only when he is gone that she realizes--Phoebe realizes--just how big an impact one person can have on another, how big an impact a person can have on a town.
I have mixed feelings on Absolute Brightness. I have plenty of positive things to say about it. But it's not a perfect book for me. I think especially towards the end that it tries to do too much. It tries to make too many statements. Take too many political and social stands. Some are expected, and quite natural, others feel a bit more forced. Though maybe that is just me. Especially the anti-war bits. Essentially her and her best friend have a falling out, a parting of ways, because her friend supports the troops in Iraq. Her brother is a soldier. She (Electra) may not like the war, but she is proud that her brother is doing what he can, doing what he committed himself to doing. She loves her brother. When she (Electra) tries to tell her best friend (Phoebe) that she should be able to disagree with the war but still be supportive of the troops that are over there, then Phoebe has a holier-than-thou moment. She refuses to support the troops. She's anti-war and proud of it, and no one is going to convince her that a solider is ever doing something to be proud of, ever doing the right thing. Phoebe is RIGHT and no one is going to convince her otherwise. "If I saw her coming toward me on the street, I looked right through her. Once I even turned away. Eventually we settled into a routine that involved ignoring each other, not exactly enemies, but not exactly friends anymore either." This was after Electra's brother came home injured. Some friend. I had a hard time liking Phoebe and respecting her. And not just for her treatment of Electra either. But I can't really get into it without giving the plot away.
Some of the characters and plots seem well-developed, other story lines and characters seem under-developed. So I liked some parts, really liked some parts, and was only so-so on a few parts. But generally, I liked it.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews