In last week's post, I touched on the fact that I wasn't quite sure how to categorize Untouchable,by Scott O'Connor. The novel certainly reads like a mystery: it focuses on the bleak existence of Darby and his eleven year old son, referred to by everybody simply as "The Kid." Both are struggling to get on with their lives in the aftermath of the sudden death of Lucy, Darby's wife and The Kid's mom. Their house is located in a neighborhood that is in serious decline and The Kid, mute since shortly after his mother's death, is the near constant target of extreme physical and emotional bullying at his rough neighborhood school. (The description of a dodgeball game all but raised welts on my skin and had me reliving my own gym class nightmares.) The story is set in the waning days of 1999, with the undercurrent of forboding regarding Y2K never far from the surface. The tone is unbelievably dark and the tension continually gets ratcheted up. Oh yeah, and Darby works for a company that cleans up the messes that are left behind after homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths; his work experiences are described in meticulous detail which definitely played into the morbid curiosity that I have about such things. I would say that Untouchable is about as noir as you can possibly get.
Based on the brief description on the packaging, I had selected this audiobook with the expectation that it was going to fall into the mystery genre and yet, by the time I was finished, I was not so sure. Can you still categorize a book as a mystery if the crimes you were expecting to be revealed never occur? But that's not to say that no crime occurs. Part of the brilliance of O'Connor's writing is that he forces the reader to become totally immersed in the oppressive atmosphere of a community in which children have little choice beyond either becoming bullies or becoming the bullied. It is a world in which physical and emotional abuse are dished out at the hands of both parents and peers and in which the negligence and incompetence of school personnel sometimes can also rise to a level that seems criminal, morally if not legally. Do these crimes count if the behaviors are so pervasive that they have become, in essence, the community's norm? Do the crimes count if it is children who are the unpunished perpertrators?
A surprise bonus of listening to the audiobook was the brilliant narration performed by Bronson Pinchot, best remembered for his portrayal of Balki on the television sitcom "Perfect Strangers." This is ironic since Untouchable is about as far away from sitcom territory as you can get.
In case you haven't already guessed, I absolutely loved this book and I'm proud to say that it was published by Tyrus, the independent press established and run by Benjamin LeRoy, my fellow Dead Guy blogger.
Shout out to any of you out there who might be old school gym teachers: Can anyone explain to me the educational value of dodgeball or, as it was more realistically referred to at my school, bombardment? In retrospect, this particular gym class activity seems to have been nothing less than an excuse for school sanctioned bullying and physical assault.