Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Review: "Unexpectedly, Milo" by Matthew Dicks

Quirky characters are a staple of fiction; most writers believe it's more rewarding to create dysfunctional characters than seemingly normal ones. Milo Slade, the title character in Matthew Dicks' ultra-quirky novel, Unexpectedly, Milo, has more than his share of issues. Suffering from a super-charged version of obsessive-compulsive disorder (although one that requires creativity and excellent problem-solving skills, as Milo acknowledges), Milo is randomly struck by strange compulsions: the need to bowl a strike, open a sealed jelly jar, sing 99 Red Balloons at a karaoke bar (in German, no less), or crack ice cubes from an ice cube tray. If he doesn't perform these "demands," the pressure in his head gets worse and worse, sometimes splintering into multiple compulsions. (Milo felt as if the demands were "programmed" by a German U-boat commander who becomes more and more frustrated when his orders aren't obeyed.)

As if handling this problem isn't enough, Milo's marriage to Christine is suffering, partially because he is hiding his disorder from her. She has asked for space, he finds an apartment, only to find out that she just wanted him to sleep over at a friend's house for a week or two. And then he finds a camcorder in the park with a bag of videotapes. On these tapes is a mystery woman's video diary, in which she expresses regret for causing a friend's death and divulges other sadnesses in her life. Milo watches long enough to find out who she is (and develops a bit of a crush on her), and then goes on a mission to right one of the wrongs she mentions in the videos.

I wanted to love this book. I really did. The description of Milo's disorder was really vivid and I can only imagine the pain and anxiety he must have felt dealing with it on a day-to-day basis. But after a while, his quirks became too numerous to bear and it was hard to identify with him or follow his motivation for certain actions. I felt more like the frustrated Christine, wondering exactly what made Milo tick. The book was well-written, and I enjoyed many of the supporting characters, but in the end, I just needed space from Milo.

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