Friday, March 16, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams

As the title says, the book starts out as anything but ordinary, spends some time trying to get close to ordinary, then turns its back on ordinary altogether and sprints headlong into the abnormal.

I enjoyed Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams. The whole book kept me off balance, in a good way. As soon as I started to get my feet under me, things would shift again.

The story starts with fourteen-year-old Lacey who's mother has a mental illness. It's not taken lightly--it's not the "mom is crazy and we all have to walk on pins an needles" type of story. Instead, Lacey truly loves her mother, and their daily life incorporates all of Mom's quirks and symptoms into a "normal" routine for them.

That's the thing about mental illness, it affects everyone. My oldest child has Autism. It's not severe, but it still shades everything we do and affects all our plans. I remember quite a few years ago having a conversation with several of my neighbors. A family that just moved in asked what restaurants we liked. I shared one of our favorites--the food was decent and the playplace was arranged in such a way that it was easy to see the kids and also keep an eye on both exits. A good friend of mine put his hand on my shoulder and said, "John, I don't think I've ever considered that. Most kids don't try to escape." He didn't say it in a derogatory way, and it really made me think how much my "normal" was really not that normal.

Back to the story. We get to accompany Lacey on a day that turns out anything but "normal", even for her. And when I say day, I mean that the entire story takes place in a single day, but it doesn't feel rushed or forced. That's not easy to do. By the evening, the story dives into the darkness and deliciously creepy and downright scary. I love a good scary story, especially one that isn't gory or crude.

I asked Carol what made this book special to her:
Many years ago, I was walking through Utah Valley University when I met a woman who was 45-years-old and about to become a great-grandmother. A GREAT-GRANDMOTHER! She, her daughter and her granddaughter all had, or were going to have, babies at or younger than 15 years of age. So, I began a novel about a little girl who's very young mom is sort of losing it. But I couldn't make it work, no matter what I tried. Later, much later, I looked back at the book. I had two novels there, somehow, twined together like wrestling snakes. I pulled them apart and began the story of a matriarchal family and a little girl with Progeria. The book was published as Pretty Like Us. Then I went to work on the story of a child who's mom is suffering. That one became Miles from Ordinary. I think that's what makes the books important to me--that I was able to pry the two apart and they were published (after much revision).
I also like what makes Lacey succeed, what makes her strong. That she can finally get free of something she has had to carry for too long. I think there are lots of kids out there who are suffering in similar ways.
Before I give you a taste of the story, I need to share a warning: when my wife read this book it freaked her out a bit and she had a hard time getting to sleep. You've been warned.
There are mice. 
Lots of mice. Running all over my room. Letting out crying sounds that grate on my ears. They crawl on my feet. My legs. I feel them on my arms. Soft things with toenails like blunt needles. 
“Momma?” I say. She’s dressed in a long nightgown. Her fingernails are sharp like the tops of just-opened cans. “We gotta get rid of the mice. We gotta call an exterminator.” I hand her an old-fashioned phone. 
“You’re right, Lacey,” Momma says. But instead, she cuts at her face with her nails. Deep wounds open up, split wide, and blood, dark blood like ink, makes paths down her face to the floor. She cries. 
“Stop that,” I say. “Stop it now.” 
But Momma doesn’t listen. Just cuts and cries. 
* * * 
I AWOKE with a start, my heart thudding in my neck. My whole body felt like I’d been dunked in an ice bath. 
“Only a dream,” I said to myself, then glanced at the clock: 3:46 A.M. I started to close my eyes. The wind nudged at the house. I could smell the magnolia tree. 
Something moved in the corner.
Ooooo, that's creepy. I like it. If you like it too, you can read the rest of the chapter and get your own copy.


Danyelle Ferguson said...

This was a really hard book for me to read - emotionally. The writing was excellent though.

I really like these spotlights! Thanks!

John Waverly said...

Isn't it funny how different people's tastes are?


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