Untouchable

Published November 6, 2011 by myliteraryleanings

Untouchable by Scott O’Connor

Overview from www.bn.com: It is the autumn of 1999. A year has passed since Lucy Darby’s unexpected death, leaving her husband David and son Whitley to mend the gaping hole in their lives. David, a trauma-site cleanup technician, spends his nights expunging the violent remains of strangers, helping their families to move on, though he is unable to do the same. Whitley – an 11 year-old social pariah known simply as The Kid – hasn’t spoken since his mother’s death. Instead, he communicates through a growing collection of notebooks, living in a safer world of his own silent imagining.

As the impending arrival of Y2K casts a shadow of uncertainty around them, their own precarious reality begins to implode. Questions pertaining to the events of Lucy’s death begin to haunt David, while The Kid, who still believes his mother is alive, enlists the help of his small group of misfit friends to bring her back. As David continues to lose his grip on reality and The Kid’s sense of urgency grows, they begin to uncover truths that will force them to confront their deepest fears about each other and the wounded family they are trying desperately to save.

My Review:

I really liked this one.  There was so much in here that reminded me of my own childhood, particularly in the character of The Kid.  I also found David’s job fascinating.  I remember reading about the fact that they had people who did this kind of job for the government but I never thought about a private company doing that same job.  One day on the radio station I was listening to there was a guy who was talking about someone who committed suicide by jumping from a skyscraper one year when he was in Las Vegas.  He mentioned that there are people who clean up the messes from these disasters for the government but I never imagined that a private company might also do this job.  I guess it makes sense though given that the government wouldn’t have wanted to pay for the damage to private property that suicides and other messy deaths might cause.  It’s also interesting that David himself is described as “terrifically fat.”

The Y2K backdrop to the story was also interesting.  We are reminded of it throughout the story whenever The Kid’s friend, Michelle “Mustache,” tells him that she could fix the computers so that they will believe that the year 2000 could exist.  And also when the characters in the story keep seeing news reports about a group of people who have moved up into some California mountains in anticipation of Y2K and the end of the world.  At first, people write them off as some type of crazy people but by the end of the novel, one of David’s coworker, along with many other people, are wanting to join them.

As for The Kid, as I mentioned, he was the character I related to the most.  He longs for his mom and thinks that the things that the other kids tease him about, such as his bad breath and body odor, are the reason that his mom has left him.  He is convinced that his dad made up the story of her death in order to spare his feelings.  Urged on by his only other friend at school, a kid named Matthew, he makes a covenant with God that he will not talk if God will bring his mother back from wherever she is hiding.  He is sure he can bear everything else, including the heartless bullies at his middle school if only his mom would return.  It seems fitting then that the school is described as some kind of monster that attempts to eat him and the other kids.

“…finally reaching the front gates of the school.  The other students were streaming in, hundreds of them, pushing and shoving to get inside.  The gates looked like open jaws, eating kids. p.19

This brings me to the next thing that I loved about this book- the description.  It was so vivid and unique that it really drew me into the story.  Even the quote about gives one a taste of the world The Kid inhabits there.  It is the same feeling that I think most of us have when we are victims of the abuse not just of the other kids at school but of the system that fails to protect them.  The reader understands how The Kid and others like him become untouchables, in much the same way that the lower castes of people in India are considered to be untouchable.

The ending surprised me somewhat.  I wasn’t expecting what The Kid’s dad did in the end.  Still it seemed like the only possible ending.  It seemed beautifully poetic and yet realistic.  This is one literary novel that I think all readers above the age of 16 can understand.  I recommend you give it a chance despite some of the foul language that is in it.  It is a good story and yesterday when I checked on www.bn.com, it was only $5 for the e-book, well worth it in my opinion.

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