The last week of December offered me an unusual wealth of free time that I occupied primarily with eating, sleeping, and reading. There were plenty of prize-winning novels in my pile from the library, but it was Blind Sight, Meg Howrey’s debut novel, that proved the most entertaining and left the most lasting impression upon me heading into 2012.
Howrey’s narrative structure is completely unique and compelling from the get-go. We find ourselves privy to the musings of Luke, a teenager heading into his final summer before senior year. The beginning of each chapter is composed of Luke’s attempts at college essays and other written ramblings, followed by a third person narrative closing out each chapter. I’m pretty sure this is one of the only books I’ve ever encountered that offered both types of perspectives on a central character without the use of multiple narrators. But Howrey’s narrative ingenuity is just the beginning of Blind Sight‘s many virtues.
Luke is considered an accident among his family, the first male descendant in twelve generations which have followed a very distinct pattern when it comes to producing offspring. The youngest of three children, Luke’s mother Sara is all New Age, taking each of her children on ritualistic pilgrimages on the cusp of their thirteenth birthdays, prohibiting any entertainment that promotes violence, and encouraging meditation, natural healing, and the like among her progeny. Luke’s sisters Aurora and Pearl are positive figures in his life, providing him with a firm handle on how to talk to women and an unusual level of knowledge regarding menstruation. And they all live with Nana, Sara’s widowed mother who is a devout Christian and prays for her grandchildren on a daily basis. As the sole male in his family’s sea of women, Luke was brought up in a way largely different from that of his male friends.
Though Luke’s family is obviously outfitted to provide some comic relief (though I probably identified with Sara a bit more than Howrey intended), the real story pertains to the long-missing family member, Luke’s father Anthony Boyle, better known as the actor Mark Franco. Luke’s mother shared one night with Anthony/Mark after Aurora and Pearl’s father divorced her and left the family. Anthony/Mark met Luke just once when he was a newborn. When he became famous, however, Sara was so far removed from celebrity culture and popular entertainment that she barely knew who Mark Franco was, let alone came across his well-known face and recognized Anthony Boyle, Luke’s father.
When Anthony/Mark contacts Sara in the hopes of meeting with his now-teenaged son, plans are made so that Luke can spend the summer with his father in Los Angeles. Though the relationship is at first strained by lack of familiarity between the two and the vast number of years spent apart, a unique rapport develops between father and son as they travel around the country for Anthony/Mark’s various acting gigs and publicity stints, to visit Luke’s paternal grandmother, to relax in Hawaii, and to camp in Sequoia National Park.
Blind Sight is part family saga, part coming of age story. Humorous situations are devised, undercutting some of the heavier aspects of Luke’s written ramblings and his at-times difficult relationships with various family members. Luke and his father attempt to forge a father-son bond against the backdrop of a Hollywood career and exorbitant vacations, a completely alternate reality for Luke whose Delaware upbringing prized mindfulness, simplicity, and the renunciation of material goods. Though Howrey’s story is largely that of Luke negotiating his newfound role in his father’s life, all that he learned and valued via the female household in which he was raised begins to come into question too.
Though the situation itself isn’t entirely unique (I believe I’ve read a story or two about absent parents, at least one containing a famous or remarkably rich father), Howrey creates an extremely relevant, relatable, and engaging story out of this basic construct. For a first-time novelist, Howrey’s ability to narrate as an authentic and sympathetic teenaged boy is truly remarkable and her storytelling was entirely enrapturing throughout. I was quite pleased to find a book that I could read for two hour stretches at a time (since I finally had the opportunity to do so!) without growing bored or simply logging pages until reaching the final one.
I love to read and make as much time to do so as possible. Each book I begin with the hope that it will instantly grab my attention, keep me hooked through the last page, and stay on mind even after I finish. I’m constantly seeking the next novel that will stand apart from the others, and Blind Sight stood up to the test. Reading Bling Sight was a delightful experience, one that I didn’t want to end (save for the ten books waiting to be opened as soon as I finished). Though the book wasn’t exactly as profound as those I place among my very favorites (Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief or Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love for instance), the experience of reading Blind Sight was very much like that of reading those books that have become my favorites for the first time.