He compares his brother’s face to the moon—the brother he says will die in a few paragraphs, “after that he was never the same.” Neither is Matthew Holmes, the self-declared unreliable narrator of this wrenching debut.
Simon is special—the type of special that means Matthew, though he is younger, shoulders the responsibility for knowing right from wrong and for keeping them safe. One summer night the two brothers sneak out of their family’s trailer in a coastal campground, only Matthew comes home.
Decades later, battling mental illness, Matthew begins writing the story of Simon’s last night. The writing reflects Matthew’s state: sluggish, repetitive, almost parochial except for the undercurrent of urgency tugging at the blurred edges of the narrative. Matthew’s illness builds tension in the plot, the perfect vehicle for an unreliable narrator. The starting point and ending are indiscernible, like a snake swallowing his own tail. The story loops, moves forward in short bursts and backs up, wraps around itself and picks up speed again.
The writing becomes more clear as Matthew’s mental state improves, the timeline of how and why sharpens. The story never loses the raw feeling however, the urgency, the voice that is unique to Matthew. The characters that populate Matthew’s world, the wink-wink guy; Nanny-Noo; Matthew’s parents; his childhood friend, start out sepia-toned reproductions of themselves. As Matthew pulls himself bit by bit from the rabbit hole these characters solidify—proof that Matthew has love even if he is misunderstood, maybe brushed aside underneath the sadness of losing Simon.
This book is a brilliant glimpse into the mind of a young man struggling with schizophrenia. However, the writing of a schizophrenic struggling to stay conscious on his medication is sharp and blunt and doesn’t fit neatly together. Fragments of sanity tell the story, in what feels like no particular order. There is a type of genius in allowing mental illness to create and direct the story, but this trick requires patience from the reader.
The first few pages read as though an elementary school kid wrote them: they are powerful and urgent, but maybe not what a reader expects. This may be one reason this highly anticipated debut fell short of publisher expectations in the hardcover, prompting a title change and re branding for the paperback. Matthew comes across a little whiny—before readers understand the “why.” His voice is not immediately captivating, but his story is. The need to know what happened to Simon drive readers—is it the shock of the fall, or where the moon isn’t?
Winner of the 2013 Costa First Novel Award