Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review: The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand

In Gregory Galloway's book, The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand, there is an image presented of the boys keeping watch over the rotting carcass of a dead cow in the river. It just decays further and further. Reading this book was a lot like that image. Why did I keep reading?  I think I wanted to like it.  Perhaps I wanted to be able to recommend it to some teen reader.  I think I was hoping for a different process through the book. It was an interesting premise but didn't play out to any great end.

Adam Strand can't exactly give you a reason for his desire to kill himself, apart from the fact that he just feels drawn to the silences between the attempts.  And there are many attempts - 39 of them.  Each time, he comes back and seems no worse for the wear.  He just can't seem to make it stick or survive long without trying again.

Here's what I didn't like.  The tone was depressing.  This alone could have killed it for me (no pun intended).  Every sentence hung heavy and pulled the reader down. I found the tale to be devoid of any sense of hope whatsoever. I can take a depressing book if it ends with some sort of redemptive meaning or message.  This book had none of that.  No redemption. Towards the end of the book, the protagonist assists an ill girl.  I suppose this was meant to be hopeful, but it seemed unrealistic.  The character doesn't even want to help; he is just roped into it by the adults who want him to provide assistance. Furthermore, in the final pages, the character sounds like he might give up trying to kill himself, but it is only a "might," and not a "definite."

The passages were disjointed.  Instead of telling the story chronologically (after all, the main character attempts unsuccessfully to commit suicide 39 times), the author chose to jump from present to past in a hodge-podge manner. It was divided into three sections. I still don't get what prompted the divisions or how they were meant to divide the story.

Moreover, the book glorified things which are dead ends - endless drinking to get drunk, totalling a car, and pulling pranks.  I figured the author was attempting to appeal to a teenage male reader, but still, I found these things to be a drag.  Perhaps it was being realistic to today's teens, but that makes me even more depressed. 

And, of course, it is very unrealistic.  Those who attempt suicide often don't get more chances.  As the saying goes, "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." To cite statistics and write of a character who, without even a reason, attempts suicide over and over again seems to beg for some sort of hopeful ending ... some counter reason to encourage readers not to take the path of Adam Strand. I am not an objective by-stander to this tale.  My own brother-in-law took his life almost three years ago and another relative recently made a failed attempt.  Would I have recommended this book to either of them, knowing they had suicidal thoughts?  No.  I don't believe they would have found any solace or even would have been able to relate to the protagonist in this story.  They didn't just wish for oblivion.  They longed for release from a very difficult life.  This book would not have changed their minds.

I guess my primary complaint is that there is no take-away from this novel.  I don't gain anything from having read it.  In fact, I can't wait to read something that doesn't plunge me into the depths the way this book did.  I hate to write a completely negative review, but I cannot think of anything more to say other than the characters were well-drawn. Not a book I can recommend.  Not even to reluctant teen readers who are looking for some sort of gimmick to pull them in. Sorry.

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