Adam Helios is a bully magnet without many friends. When he starts hearing a voice that claims to come from the stars, he fears he’s losing his mind, so he withdraws even further. On the way home from a meeting at the school, he and his parents are involved in a horrible car crash. With his skull cracked open, Adam’s consciousness is abducted by the alien who has been speaking to him for months.
After surviving the wreck with only minor scratches, Camille Helios must deal with her guilt over the accident that left her husband badly injured and her son in a coma. When the doctor suggests letting Adam go, Camille refuses to stop fighting for her son’s life.
Lost among galaxies, Adam must use his imagination to forge a path home before his body dies on the operating table. But even if he does return to Earth, he may end up locked inside a damaged brain forever.
Inveterate coffee drinking author and fellow blogger Nicholas Conley is back again with another fine offering which treads the fine line between what is real and what may not be. He also comes up with such prose as this, which makes me happy:
The coffee was too hot and too grainy. The fiery grounds jabbed at Camille’s tongue like a tattoo gun.
Conley’s fourth novel is yet again a very good piece of writing and just like his other novel Pale Highway, draws on his experiences working in the understaffed healthcare system to reinforce the plight of Adam and family with solidly realistic emotional reactions. The strong start brings in the challenging themes straight from the off: Bullying, being orphaned, belonging, puberty, guilt, and family problems, all before the main story of a terrible and all too easy to imagine car accident really kicks off.
I’m glad that the decision to focus on both Adam and his parents separately was chosen, this help balance out the physical and psychological effects of the real world whilst making room for the retention of the feeling of tangible and unfettered imagination in Adam’s story. Both parts work well together, allowing the realistic edge of the hospital to give way to the extravagance of imagination, ensuring for an easier but no less challenging read.
The vulnerability of each character, be it their physical or internal struggles allows the reader to explore two very different yet similar sides of the same coin, with the root cause being powerlessness, or the perception thereof. The book has that realism thanks to the aforementioned experiences of the author and it makes the events feel that much more genuine, which is truly rewarding.
It’s not all down to earth, so to speak. What I like in the contrasting storyline is the idea that Adam – a character already on the verge of discovering himself, as a teen – has a fascination with some pretty existential thoughts as well, the Big concepts of life and space, not only are we treated to a few existential musings but also some tasty mythological style imagery. It’s also nice to see Plato’s Allegory of the Cave getting a mention as well.
Mad Glee is a great character name and the supporting cast are all well fleshed out, as well as comic book protagonist, Jupiter Man, whom I wouldn’t mind reading more about. I enjoyed my time with this book, I felt empathy with the characters, although not liking all of them. Anything featuring the wondrously free nature of space, time, and imagination is definitely a winner in my view and with the grounded nature of the rest of the book, it gives the work a sense of well-rounded symbiosis.