Framing a character’s life in such a way that there is a worthy purpose for telling their story, while also avoiding the monotony of cliché, is a meticulous undertaking. In his debut novel, Ottawa writer Jared Young overturns convention to achieve this dual aim. His protagonist elucidates the sum of his life’s events as they occur to him in random blips – all while suspended in time and space, strapped to an airplane seat in the middle of a catastrophic midair event.
This play on the idea of one’s “life flashing before one’s eyes” serves not only to pique a reader’s interest immediately, but also to encompass the most potent moments of an entire lifetime without seeming tedious or forced. With deft, addictive prose and description that is rich in all the right ways and places, Young’s narrative will affect anyone with even the tiniest penchant for self-reflective nostalgia.
After a handful of unfortunate factors force him to make an abrupt and final departure, Daniel Solomon reluctantly boards a flight out of Bangkok, his paradise away from the domestic languor and heartache of the U.S. he fled years ago. Though we aren’t privy at first to the circumstances that brought Daniel to Bangkok, we gradually learn this – not chronologically, but piecemeal, in segments that are doled out and returned to thoughtfully, slowly, and poignantly coming together to form a complete picture.
Marvelling at the state of suspended animation in which he finds himself, and his simultaneous, surreal ability to navigate through years of accumulated memories, Daniel hops between various points in his life in an attempt to glean greater meaning from his existence. “It’s common knowledge that we’re all unreliable narrators,” he remarks early on, an assertion he eventually comes to embody. Upon second and third glances at his past, he begins to recognize the plethora of potentially life-altering details and connections he’s overlooked along the way.
Alternating between airy calm and fervent terror, Daniel’s narration – which takes the form of a letter he imagines writing to an unnamed figure, whose identity is kept from the reader until the end of the book – eventually uncovers previously untapped wisdom and growth. It’s the regrets and “what ifs” – the effect and burden of our everyday decisions – that strike a chord