EW.com had a short post on Shelf Life about this book but really only talked about its grabber of an opening line, and grabby opening lines in general. Frustrating. To me this is like posting an article on the new Corvette and merely talking about how cool its exposed headlights are, and displaying a gallery of other famously cool exposed headlights in the world of automobiles.
They’re missing the real story: this is a fan-freaking-tastic novel.
It seems silly to me now that in the first thirty pages of In This Way I Was Saved I wasn’t terribly impressed. Initially the story was little more than weird and the Manhattan bourgeois characters kept me at an annoyed distance. But soon I became convinced that Daniel was a ghost… and then a sinister imaginary friend… and then something different altogether—something much more mature and disturbing than either of those. I was hooked from then on.
The story is essentially a human disaster, one brought on by a boy’s depression that’s either exploited by Daniel or fully personified by him. It’s painful to watch a decent person like Luke set fire to his own life, and you can develop a genuine animosity toward the snake who gives him the matches and kerosene. And that snake is your narrator.
The book has two distinct halves: Luke at age six following his parents’ divorce and Luke at eighteen-on, now introduced to sex, drugs, violence, and other things he shouldn’t be messing with while off his medication. Daniel’s influence over Luke waxes as the latter’s will wanes.
The precise relationship between Daniel and Luke is never easy to nail down. Is Daniel his spiritual parasite? Luke’s sadistic id? His identity is ambiguous enough to keep this question interesting, and Brian DeLeeuw writes him so deliberately that you feel there’s a concrete answer to it.
Daniel. People, or rather human beings, disgust him at every turn. His observations range from the familiar and funny (a row of girls on Stairmasters looking“like some kind of fascist behavioral experiment”) to alien and unnerving (explaining his predilection toward techno: “I liked this music. It banished the human voice and its sloppy warmth, replacing it with precision, repetition, unsentimental intelligence. Such lovely rigor.”)
Luke feels oddly hollow as a character, which perhaps is appropriate; at times he’s almost a soulless vacuum for Daniel to hungrily inhabit. This is also because Luke is always upstaged by his friend. This is Daniel’s story after all—the mere fact that it is makes this novel so uniquely disturbing.
And then there’s Luke’s the mother, Claire. There’s enough Oedipal stuff happening there to have Freud puffing through a whole box of cigars to puzzle it out. I suppose a reader having a mediocre time with this book (though I can scarcely imagine that) would roll their eyes at the unabashed Freudfest.
Fun Digression: Does anybody else find it funny that psychoanalysis has become laughably out of style in the field of psychology, like platform boots with live goldfish in the heels, yet we still use it constantly when analyzing literature? I think it’s because Freud was simply in the wrong line of work. A literary guy at heart, he seemed less ridiculous dealing with hypothetical people than with real ones.
Maybe psychoanalysis is a meaningless parlor game whether you’re using it to understand Patient John Doe or Captain Ahab, but at least with the latter we don’t risk screwing a guy up for life.
Brian DeLeeuw—I keep thinking I’ve spelled his name wrong, but I haven’t (really, one more vowel and that thing’s Hawaiian.)—has this novel to call his debut, and that’s damn impressive. His prose is pitch perfect and his dialogue is bitingly convincing and you can’t ask for better than that. Then there’s his fresh premise that’s already been described as Hitchcockian (though it builds up to a Twilight Zone-y ending that would be silly in a lesser book).
Ever read a novel called Demian by Hermann Hesse? (author of Siddartha) It’s been a while for me, but it was a coming-of-age story about a boy who befriends another lad named Max Demian, who seems to be the boy’s alter ego—the embodiment of all that is darker and less innocent in him (though not necessarily evil). And I remember the boy having some odd gravitation toward Demian’s mother…
Point is, DeLeeuw’s novel calls that lesser-known classic to mind, although his book is much darker, more dire, and more… well, supernatural isn’t the word, neither is magical-realist, but it’s more of that. It’s also a better book.