Monday, March 27, 2006

Lost At Sea

My thirty-sixth birthday is rapidly approaching. Every morning I have more gray hair in my beard, and my knees move closer and closer to being completely non-functional. And all I can say is this:

Thank God I'm not 18 anymore.

It's a hard age, or it was for me. It's mainly the lack of perspective. Thoughts are constantly racing around, firing at top speeds and you're liable to take shrapnel off the cranial ricochets. You're constantly aflame with figuring out who you are and who you're going to be. It all tends towards melodrama and exaggerated importance because you have no real frame of reference. And all this things need to be figured out now, because it seems that true adulthood is rushing at you and if you don't solve it at 3:30 AM, there simply won't be time. It's a formative time, but for those of a certain mindset, it's completely exhausting.

Bryan Lee O'Malley's Lost At Sea is the age of 18 boiled down to india ink and set on a page. It's about a young girl on a road trip, and about lost souls, and cats. What it's really about, though is eighteen-hood. Or eighteen-ness, whatever your preferred term is. Raleigh is a quiet girl who is often paralyzed by her own amok thoughts. Lost At Sea is a simple few days in her life when she decides to move forward. It's about the thoughts that are running through your head so loudly, they make your head feel crowded. It's a visual motif that keeps up throughout the book: thoughts that threaten to push her off the page and out of the book entirely.

What really struck me was how O'Malley was able to balance the book. Like Oscar Wilde, he realizes his characters are ultimately trivial people. Also like Wilde, he knows that triviality can utterly serious. Raleigh is both a character to laugh at and to empathize with. There is enough distance to look fondly upon the madness of being eighteen, but no so much that there's no connection.

It's not a huge journey. Raleigh doesn't end up a whole person, not quite. She doesn't come out with the wisdom of Solomon, or the perspective of an adult. She learns a little, and reaches out. When she does, she realizes the important lesson the eighteen-year-old finally do: she's not alone.



Shane Bailey said...

Excellent review. You've pinpointed the exact feel of the book with the term "eighteen-ness".

Serene said...

It's about the thoughts that are running through your head so loudly, they make your head feel crowded.

Absolutely. This is a great review of one of my favorite books....