One of the cat’s very first YA literature discoveries wasn’t really YA at all. Or at least, it hadn’t been marketed as such until it won the 2006 Alex Award. I’m talking about Gregory Galloway’s fantastically brilliant As Simple as Snow, a mystery that is at the same time almost the epitome of coming-of-age, with all the familiar tropes that this subgenre has, yet with a nice dark twist. BTW, check out the website which still/again exists to get to know Anna Cayne a little bit better… Ever since the publication of Galloway’s debut, however, he seemed to have mysteriously disappeared from YA-land just like Anna Cayne in As Simple as Snow. Until now, that is (… OK, so there’s a 2011 short story compilation as well, but this seems to be available to Kindle only) with the publication of the equally mysterious The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand.
Adam Strand is 16 and he has killed himself (and has actually died)… 39 times, but for some reason he never stays dead, which is the only thing he really wants: to not exist. Just like As Simple As Snow has garnered so many different responses (just check out the Goodreads page on the book), the same will be true for this one. And to be honest, the cat feels a bit conflicted about it too. As much as I love whole parts of this book, there are also parts that made me feel indifferent about Adam Strand’s fate. Adam Strand can be such a little shit sometimes, such an unbelievably prime example of the disease that is rampant amongst many contemporary teens – total boredom and lack of engagement, a sort of existential ennui coupled with lots of irrelevant whatevers – that it’s hard to get into the character of Adam at times.
That being said, though, Galloway’s prose is so ever so descriptive, and even when he’s having Adam explain his total and utter boredom for the umpteenth time, there’s a sort of poetic quality that’s hard to overlook here. So the writing is definitely above par, a very learned kind of writing too, erudite, with definite signs of lots and lots of editing!.
The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand is also one of those almost plotless books. There is some plot, of course, but it’s really minimal: Adam dies…like 39 times, and there’s a very significant narrative thread involving a 10-year-old girl as well, Maddy. But I think it’s almost a novel of ideas, an introspective investigation in the concept of suicide. By its very nature, this is obviously something that will alienate some people, and even have some people vehemently hate this. However, whenever Adam describes the feelings he had just before he decides to kill himself again, his whole inner emotional outburst is so incredibly powerful, so very enlightening too in trying to put the almost incomprehensible into words. And doesn’t everyone love a bit of self- and world-loathing:
“Here’s the thing – the secret of it all: remember one of my father’s favorite lines, the bit about how there are two categories of people, the miserable and horrible. Well, here’s the real truth – we’re all horrible. There is no comfort in the miserable because we’re all horrible, grotesque, immeasurably flawed, impaired, repulsive, revolting freaks wandering around with exaggerated awareness of our own misshapen defects or no awareness at all….I don’t know which one is worse, but make no mistake – Woody Allen and my father were wrong – we’re all horrible. We walk through each day with our gross imperfections, blighted, stained, less human than we want to admit. We lie, cheat, steal, kill – either a little or a lot – or allow it to happen; we are perpetrators or accomplices, predator or prey, or both.” (p.228)
Once more, this is the type of book that will raise a lot more questions than it actually answers (to name a really obvious one: does Adam have any ‘physical’ leftovers of his 39 suicides??). That will be yet another reason for a polarized response to it of course: people often just want things neat and with a proper sense of closure, while Galloway doesn’t make any sort of judgment, nor does he have any of the minor characters make any sort of moral judgment about what Adam does. If there’s anything at all, it’s first fascination, which later turns into indifference… which is infinitely worse than the fascination part, of course.
The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand may not be for everyone, but it is definitely compelling and thought-provoking enough for me to give this a solid 3.5 and maybe even 4 stars…