This is the first novel I’ve read since high-school. I’ve always been more into philosophy, history or scientific books. I just love to suck up information like a sponge, but I’ve been on information overload lately and decided to start reading novels, or at least give it a shot, expand my horizons. And when there’s bargain bin madness at Chapters where I can pick up left-overs for two or three dollars, it’s a good deal. I found The Center of Everything at the bottom of a bin; I grabbed it without even reading what the book was about. The title was sufficiently interesting for me. And I fear it may have ruined me for future novels.
The story is about Evelyn Bucknow, who at the beginning of the novel is but 10 years of age, born and raised on the wrong side of the tracks. Kerrville, Kansas is, according to our narrator, Evelyn, at the center of everything – because on American made maps the US is centered and Kansas is smack dab in the middle of it all. Evelyn is also one smart little girl, living with her single mother and not knowing who her father is, in some small complex with more people on the wrong side of the tracks. Her mother is irresponsible and unable to deal with her own family, a father who rejects her as a whore for getting pregnant at a young age, a very religious mother, always trying to get her daughter and grand-daughter to come to church.
Evelyn and her mother are so poor that any screw-up, like a car breaking down, can completely halt their lives. So when her mother loses her job because she was having an affair with her boss, all sorts of troubles pop up, not to mention that she gets pregnant once again by her boss, who promptly moves away with his wife. Evelyn goes to school where she’s constantly reminded of being poor by her peers, and the teachers always pushing her to do better, as she is a gifted student.
The story follows her life through the following 6 or 7 years. Through thick and thin she does the impossible to get into college and make her life better. All the time, she has to make the hard decisions so as to never lose sight of her goals.
The book is depressing, gut wrenching and tear jerking at times. The story is brilliantly crafted and you never lose the connection with Evelyn and her coming-of-age story. Moriarty seems to have effortlessly evolved the language of the book as the narrator matures and grows up as the story progresses; her expressions, her inner thoughts all concord with her current age as we accompany her along her struggles. It feels almost like you are reading her diary. You are made to feel as she feels and emotions run high in this story. You just want to pick her up and hug her. Everything is pitted against her and she keeps on moving, keeps going forward.
The story will probably remind everyone of their own trials as adolescents and the effort needed to keep sane through it all. All along, to set the stage, we are reminded of the political movements in the 1980s, from Reagan to George H. W. Bush; many pop-cultural references, such as Madonna and other 80’s pop icons, and the TV movie The Day After. There is also much about Evangelicals and tent revivals. This seems to only help you create Evelyn’s universe in your mind and it helps make it all too real, makes you feel like you’ve been there.
You get carried away by all the layers in the storytelling and attention to detail, but never flooding you with it, either. The only issue I have with the writing is that the writer cuts into another “scene” without indication. It creates interruptions in the story arc; like cutting from one scene to another on a TV show or movie. But there are no visual clues to tell you that there’s been a change of scene, leaving the reader with the feeling that something’s missing, like the reader absently skipped a paragraph. After a few chapters the reader becomes habituated to this and is by then too engrossed by this book that it comes alive, so its small faults are easily ignored.
I just couldn’t put it down; it read as easily as Steinbeck and I believe, could without contest, replace classic reading material for high-schools. It’s more up to date and relevant to today than say, literary classics such as The Catcher in the Rye, or Of Mice and Men. Graceful storytelling, touching material and a good message that you don’t need to railroad your life, that you can escape the machinations and traps set out before you, that you can soar above your troubles and succeed.
When I read the final words of the book, I felt sad because I wanted the experience to continue. Now I’m afraid of picking up another novel for fear that it won’t be as good, as captivating as this wonderful work of literature.
Somebody give Laura Moriarty a prize–all I can give her is a 4 outta 5 for this shining gem. And you must read this book.