Synopsis from Goodreads.
JAMES AND ALEX have barely anything in common anymore—least of all their experiences in high school, where James is a popular senior and Alex is suddenly an outcast. But at home, there is Henry, the precocious 10-year-old across the street, who eagerly befriends them both. And when Alex takes up running, there is James’s friend Nathen, who unites the brothers in moving and unexpected ways.
I’m going to shamelessly steal an idea from this book to describe how I feel about this story.
You know when you’re younger (Or, OK, when you’re not so young if you’re anything like me) and you’re on a set of swings in your back garden? And I’m not talking about the swings in the park that are properly secured with cement or whatever they use. These are the ones your dad put up in the summer when he’d had a bit too much Carlsberg and he was drunk on burgers.
And, while you’re mid-swing, there’s that split second moment where you’re not sure whether you’ll crunch back down into the grass or you’ll tip backwards and end up skinning your elbows or, more likely, get concussion.
That split second moment is what this entire book felt like. Not sure whether it’s going to be happy, or sad ending… could go either way.
I had a sneaking suspicion I was going to love this book just from reading the synopsis. It ticks all the boxes that I want ticked when I’m looking for a story. Siblings, boys, sexuality, growing up, contemporary. Tick, tick, tick, tiiiiiick.
Thankfully, I wasn’t wrong.
What They Always Tell Us is such a gorgeous book and from the first page I was completely hooked. It took me a while to get my head around the third person, present tense (I think the only other book I’ve read with this style is The Piper’s Son) but once I did I was surprised at how well it worked with the story.
This book deals with a lot of diverse and sensitive issues, but with the story told in the way it was, there was this wonderful distance that stopped the book floundering in angst-ridden drama. Mr Wilson’s style of writing is so understated, so realistic and deals with the complicated emotions in a refreshingly matter-of-fact manner.
I really hate it when authors really hammer issues home to you and you end up just wanting to fling the book across the room and yell “OK! WE GET IT!”
All the characters were brilliant but I think my favourite was Alex. I loved how his story developed and the twisted and the turns it took; some I had guessed and others I had no idea about. And I adored how much time Mr Wilson took to develop the character, fleshing him out and making him into a real person, as opposed to a vessel for the Important Issues. I know that sounds stupid and stating-the-obvious-y but… well, not every author does that.
There was only one issue I had was that I was more invested in Alex’s story and thoughts than James’. I kind of felt that James’ chapters, although still interesting, lacked the emotional impact that Alex’s had. They sometimes felt like they were just in there to highlight Alex’s chapters when, in fact, they were doing fine on their own.
However, I did like the way that Mr Wilson portrayed James’ reaction to his brothers “accident”. It was fantastically written in all its uncomfortable and brutal honesty.
Just recently, I’ve been lucky to find this pool of brilliant American authors that I’d never read before and Martin Wilson is definitely part of the gang. If his next books are anything like What They Always Tell Us then I cannot wait.
Oh, you want to know which way the swing falls in this book?
Pfft, like I’m going to tell you.
Come on now.