Released: February 2015
An adolescent’s coming of age is counterbalanced by extreme parental anxiety in this first novel by Canadian author Michael Christie.
Eleven-year-old Will Cardiel has not been ‘Outside’ for as long as he can remember. His mother Diane’s agoraphobia and her fears for his safety have confined them both within the four walls of their home ever since he was a small child. Even ‘Inside’, Will must wear a protective helmet at all times.
One day, however, Will sneaks out of the house and discovers an entire world that thrills and terrifies him in equal measure. He begins to take risks, learning to skateboard and getting caught up in the disappearance of an Indian boy whom the police have no interest in finding.
Diane sees all of this and is terribly afraid, but soon realises that there is very little she can do to stop Will’s ‘Destructivity Experiments’. Instead she retreats into her own past during ‘Relaxation Time’. These segments gradually reveal the source of her anxiety: the deaths of her entire family, including her twin brother, in a series of bizarre and tragic accidents.
Christie blends suspense with pathos throughout the novel and is sensitive in his handling of issues such as mental illness and Canadian race relations. Segregation, unemployment, poverty and alcoholism are presented as symptoms of industrial decline and inequality between the white and indigenous populations in the small town of Thunder Bay. As a sheltered white boy, Will’s perspective on these issues often comes from a place of naivety or privilege, but other characters such as Will’s friend Jonah are able to provide more real insight.
Similarly, Christie treads a fine line between depicting Diane’s fears as either completely rational or completely unfounded. At times even she herself sees that she is being unreasonable but is still unable to shake off her anxiety. At other times it becomes apparent that there are real dangers in Thunder Bay – including a criminal gang led by a man referred to only as ‘the Butler’ – and that Will’s activities could easily get him into trouble.
Diane and Will must both figure out which of her concerns for his safety are legitimate and which are not, so that he can find a balance between excessive caution and recklessness. Their situation is an extreme example of an all too common situation, ensuring that readers will find their struggles universally resonant.