Jan 29, 2010

Monkey droppings - Away from Everywhere by Chad Pelley

Today, the monkey weirds out on lingering family resentments.

Away from Everywhere
by Chad Pelley (2009)

Families are funny things, sometimes. Sure, we all rhapsodize about the strengths of familial bonds and the importance of community to your proper upbringing, but deep down inside, in those areas of the brain we rarely explore, there is always that hint of doubt, that niggling of uncertainty best left unspoken; If I wasn't related to these people, would I be friends with them? Would I even like them?

This is only a rhetorical theory, by the way. I love my family. Whether they love me back, I leave that argument to the unfathomable depths of their souls. But we don't get a choice, so we're stuck with each other no matter what. That's the definition of family. And that is what puts the fun in dysfunctional.

Newfoundland author Chad Pelley understands the dynamics of families, the give and take, the love and the hate. It is the kindling of good drama, and in his debut novel Away from Everywhere, Pelley uses it to creating a roaring fire of familial angst.

Pelley starts his narrative in the middle, a tragic accident involving two of the principles, working back and forth from that point to fill the pieces of the puzzle. Alex and Owen are fraternal twins, born to a strong mother figure and a journalist father who, it is quickly revealed, suffers from schizophrenia. Pelley captures the deterioration of personality with grace and nuance; indeed, it is when Pelley confronts the darker elements that his story comes truly alive.
He went delusional, then catatonic: a raving lunatic and then a body in a rocking chair that wouldn't have the instinct to fell a burning room; a man seeing people to a man with no use for eyes.
The event serves as a wedge to send the brothers on alternate paths. Alex becomes determined to be a man he sees as 'successful,' driving himself to become a doctor. Owen, the more melancholy of the two, opts to pursue his romantic dream of becoming a writer. As the years pass, both men discover the costs of their choices, as Alex's drive leaves his marriage empty, and Owen's passion drives him to drink.

Pelley's tale does not travel down new roads, but he navigates the familiar path of his characters extremely well. Owen is the novel's main focus, and Pelley deftly captures the bottomless well of self-pity and loneliness that an alcoholic can dwell in.

Pelley also brings a good eye for description, with an almost poetic air to the physicality of his characters:
She had a mannish face no man could love - patches of wiry hair on her blotchy chin and cheeks that would grow a beard if left alone, a large droopy mole on her forehead that hung down like a cocooning insect, and a witch's crooked nose. Owen figured she held the world in contempt for the face she was born with.
Yet despite its plentiful strengths, Away from Everywhere suffers from a sometimes leaden ear for dialogue. Characters have a tendency to make speeches rather than talk, lending certain scenes a 'disease of the week' television movie quality. Pelley has some satisfactory twists to delay showing his hand, but a third-act development (no spoilers here) is the sort of surprise you either buy or you don't, and I'm afraid I fall into the former category.

Notwithstanding such criticisms, there is far too much good in Away from Everywhere to dismiss it. Pelley achieves some affecting moments of true transcendence in Everywhere's pages; his is a talent to watch for.



ekalcock said...

Hey Corey, Good review. I read this over Christmas, probably not the best timing! EAlcock

Wanda said...

I wasn't expecting to be plunked in my own backyard while reading Away From Everywhere. It was an eerie coincidence that kept me turning the pages instead of wraping gifts in the week leading up to Christmas. Glad to hear it held enough to bring forth a MONKEY LIKES verdict!

Corey Redekop said...

No, I can see it being kind of a downer.

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