With relentless intensity, the opening of Suzette Mayr’s fourth novel traces the joys and despairs of 17-year-old Patrick Furey in the final days before his suicide. Although he dies in the first chapter, Furey remains the novel’s fulcrum throughout the entire book. From the second chapter onward, Monoceros shifts between a wide range of characters who are affected by Furey’s death, from those who knew him well to those for whom he was just another face in a crowded high school hallway.
Wary of the “copycat effect,” the administration of the Catholic school Furey attended are cautious about acknowledging the tragedy. Their hesitancy is compounded by the uncomfortable fact that Furey was gay and subject to bullying because of it. Furey’s parents, devastated by their son’s death, were in denial about his sexuality while he was alive. The school principal and the head guidance counsellor, both of whom Furey turned to for support, also appeared indifferent to his mounting frustration. The principal and the guidance counsellor, both men, live together, but have kept this fact secret for the sake of their jobs; as they deal with the fallout from Furey’s death, they find their relationship strained both at work and at home.
Monoceros is an ambitious novel about a difficult topic, but Mayr pulls it off impressively, capturing the kinetic energy and claustrophobia of a contemporary high school while bouncing between a number of distinct, equally compelling narrative perspectives. Character development is bold and assured: the novel in no way shies from the intimate or the abject. One of Furey’s former classmates, for example, watches Internet clips of decomposing pig foetuses in an attempt to rationalize what has become of the boy she barely knew.
Unfortunately, as the novel progresses, several of its narrative threads come together with a neatness that betrays the compelling realism achieved in the characterization. And though thoroughly foreshadowed, the magical realism of the novel’s conclusion is unsatisfying. These, however, are relatively minor shortcomings in an otherwise complex and moving novel deserving of a large and attentive readership.