Saturday, September 19, 2015
Book Review: "Brailling for Wile" by James Zerndt
Scrabble fans, the word "brailling" means feeling the surface of a tile while your hand is in the bag in order to draw a blank or other specific letter. This practice is strictly against the rules. (Don't worry, this isn't a book about Scrabble.)
At times while reading James Zerndt's moving but slightly scattered Brailling for Wile, I felt as if I could benefit from brailling to help me find my way to the beautiful heart of this book. At its core, this is a book about love, loss, redemption, and recovery, and it touches you and makes you think. It's just at times it loses its way a little bit.
Thirteen-year-old Mattias Long and his older sister Georgie have been left reeling since the suicide of their father Wile (so called because "his crazy plans to build his family a better life...ended up with an anvil falling on him," like Wile E. Coyote) one year ago. Mattias has been responsible for watching over their mother, who is so consumed with grief that she hasn't been able to reopen the family's Colorado restaurant, The Sad Cafe. And then their mother makes a discovery that changes all of them, sending them reeling and pondering their next steps.
Mattias and his family aren't the only ones struck by life and loss. Brailling for Wile follows a number of other people in the small ski town where they live, and many are trying to overcome their own dilemmas and figure out their own lives. And then a seemingly simple request from Mattias' mother sets a course of events in motion that affects an ever-widening circle of people and forces them to confront their own issues.
As you might imagine from a book about loss, there is a lot of emotion conveyed in this story, and it's very engaging. There are a lot of different threads of the plot to keep straight, although they eventually intersect, and while most of them work, one subplot involving Mattias' friend Helyana and her ultra-religious grandfather seemed utterly unnecessary and unrealistic, and I found it tremendously distracting. I don't think the book needed to artificial chaos that those characters brought aboutit was almost as if Zerndt didn't trust the power of his story without that, and it was moving more than fine on its own.
But despite the one discordant thread of the story, this is still a moving, well-written book that I felt in my heart and my head. It definitely makes you think how you'd handle the situations the characters find themselves in, and I was left thinking about these characters even after I finished the book. I'm glad I read this one.