This is a short, gripping and ultimately frustrating book. The story deals with an extremely topical and relevant theme of an outcast and suicidal teenager’s angst in the world around him and his own self-obsessive morbidity. I picked it up a few years back on a visit to Mumbai seeing that it was by the author who penned the Silver Linings Playbook, the movie version of which was among my favorites of that year.
Leonard Peacock is turning 18. Not that it is of any consequence to anyone else in the world, not even to his want away mother who has basically left him to fend for himself while she tends to her fashion designing career and boyfriend. But Leonard is determined to make his mark this time. For he has a carefully preserved family heirloom, a gun handed down to him which belonged to his grandfather – a Nazi killer during World War 2. He plans to put it to good use, or so he feels. Kill his ex-best friend, Asher Beal and then go out in a blaze of glory himself. Before doing that though, he wants to say a proper goodbye to four people who he feels may be the only ones keeping him going till now and who actually give a care to him. One of those is an old Humphrey Bogart obsessed neighbor who he watches Bogie films on loop with. Another is an immigrant teenage violin virtuoso. Then there is a Holocaust teacher (who may have a secret worth uncovering himself), and a Catholic preaching teenage girl who he is smitten by. In his mind, the world is pretty much a shitty place and being an adult doesn’t seem to make anything better. In fact, going by his secret trips on some school days shadowing various adults around, he can’t figure out why in the world everybody keeps doing things they don’t like doing and living lives they can’t stand. And why his classroom is filled with ubermorons who can’t say or do an honest thing in this world. But none of them are as worse as Asher, as far as he is concerned.
It’s intriguing and set up extremely well. Leonard’s inner monologues provided as footnotes are a fascinating look at his thought process and he does raise a lot of pertinent observations and questions on human nature at least some of which will resonate with the reader. The letter from the future is also an interesting construct. The background of his problems with Asher is brutally sad and poignant for its focus on young lives led astray by the indiscretions of grownups in positions of trust. The supporting characters are also well fleshed out in their mannerisms and idiosyncrasies.
However, the story could have been so much more. A brilliant premise was set up and characters introduced, but then it basically stops. The ending was abrupt and incredibly frustrating for its refusal to really explore these lives more and is probably why I just cannot rate this higher. Apart from this, minor quibbles include Leonard’s character himself. His depraved background which contributed to his taking such a drastic decision could have been explored more and it didn’t sit right with him suddenly becoming a smooth talker when he found a girl he likes.
But I would still recommend this story – it’s an enlightening look at a troubled kid’s mental process and can be a pointer to always be nice to that lonely kid or adult you may see somewhere or the other on life’s journey. As an indictment against bullying and social isolation, this works to an extent.