Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: "In Awe" by Scott Heim

Even after more than 10 years have passed since I first read it, Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin remains one of my ten favorite books. While other book I read during my literary gestation period have fallen out of favor with me, that one remains a powerful fictional account about child abuse and ways it can warp people’s lives in monstrous and self destructive ways. It is a book that is so good that I don’t think Heim has surpassed it (although he is working on a new novel, so I’ve heard), and his subsequent books have failed to match the emotive power and gut punch of his fierce debut, instead going a vague dreamlike route that is good in some parts, a head scratcher in others and a downright frustrating during a few brief moments, mostly toward the end. I barely recall his most recent novel, We disappear, but this novel, In Awe, is, I am willing to guess, much better that. It follows the lives of three people of varying ages, set again in Kansas, whose degrees of psychosis draw them to a violent conclusion. There is Boris, 17, an orphan living in a halfway house whose obsession with Rex, one his classmates on school, borders the line between creepy and extremely creepy. His situation is not helped by Sarah, a woman in her thirties who hasn’t quite left her teen years, who fantasizes about being a heroine in one of the slasher films she is obsessed with. Then there is Harriet, in her sixties, mourning the loss of her gay son Marshall (also close friends with Boris and Sarah) to AIDS, who seems to believe that her son is haunting the rooms of her farmhouse. Incidents happen involving a local string of killings, a brutal scene of gay bashing that connects to the book’s jumbled ineffective ending and the broken dreams of all involved. Like Mysterious Skin, there are a few scenes that will stick with me, like a carnival scene where Boris’ obsession with Rex intensifies and one that explains in gross detail what is on the cover. Just on the basis of his first book, whatever Heim is producing is sure to be something I check out, and I hope it is a return to a form that gave his first novel such staying power.

Rating: 4/5

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