Monday, 24 March 2014

The Best People in the World by Justin Tussing (4.5/5)

First published: 2006
Page count: 336
The back says: Thomas, a seventeen year old with the face of an angel, is living with his parents in a house that has begun to feel crowded; Alice, his high-school teacher and first love, is getting calls from her violent ex-husband; and Shiloh, a survivor of a life lived on the fringes, has seen his shack swept away by the mighty Ohio river.

They run away together, in pursuit of an ideal that none of them are quite able to define, eventually finding shelter in an abandoned farm house in the hills of Vermont. But as the chill of autumn sets in, dependency and deprivation start to take their inevitable toll on each relationship, and Thomas begins to see this time – when he was with ‘the best people in the world’ – come to an end.

I say: Not since Bella Swan, then Tess of the d’Urbervilles and finally Jane Eyre has a female character annoyed me to such an extent as Alice did.


She made me violent.

And now that I have gotten that out of the way I will continue on to say that I fell in love with Shiloh, felt compassion for Thomas’ misguided youth and kindness, and just hated Alice. The way that the three of them found each other makes more sense than the synopsis had me believe – somehow Tussing made it all seem so natural and evident – and yet at the same time there was an underlying sense of doom in everything they said and did. Usually this sort of thing annoys me, but here it felt inevitable and therefore acceptable.

I desperately wanted to know what would ultimately break them up, and simultaneously didn’t want to see an end that was destined to be painful.

Never had I imagined the deceit that would unfold.

The story is told by Thomas, looking back at that time in his life, and at first it took me a while to get into the prose. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Thomas surly; maybe that is how 17 year-old-boys can be – I wouldn’t know – but there was a naivety to him that vexed me. Thankfully there were a few times that Thomas, in the present, commented on his lack of insight at that age that felt genuine, and he did seem to live rather sheltered life.

Having made my peace with Thomas’ trying inner voice, I later came to appreciate the way Tussing allowed the reader to witness his growth. It’s the relationships he forms with Alice and Shiloh that breaks this story away from the usual coming of age voyages; and ultimately his innocence is the reason why it works.

At times it was beautiful, more often it was infuriating, but always engaging and within the realm of possibility that I enjoy watching others walk. I was lost in their world, wanting to stay there a little bit longer with each chapter read, yet hoping the end would soon arrive to release us all.
4.5/5 because of the chapters with the two men travelling looking for miracles, which felt contrived.

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