All the Castles Burned by Michael Nye
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I suppose this is meant to be Literary and Serious, but in all honesty, it doesn't have much of a plot. It's more of a character study of Owen Webb, and he's essentially the same person at 28 that he is at 16. Granted, he's a likable person, and as someone who was also 16 in the 1990s, I can relate to many of his thoughts and actions. But he has very little agency in his own life. Things happen to him and happen around him, but seldom happen because of him.
Perhaps because of this, we read the Climactic Scene secondhand through Owen's mother, and that makes it less than climactic. The ending feels very tacked-on.
The explicitly-stated moral of this character study is that one should always have a mother, because it's the motherless boy who turns out Bad. Even a half-assed mother is better than none, according to Nye's narration. Owen, of course, has no control over the fact that his mother is present and largely functional, despite dabbling in alcoholism. But we're told that this is what allows him to grow up to be, presumably, a pretty decent person.
I like Owen, but I'd rather read about what happens to him in the boxing ring as a grown-up man with grown-up thoughts than secondhand witness what he passively witnesses as a fairly typical adolescent. Owen's teenage problems are very much First World Problems. At no time in the novel is he in any immediate danger, which makes the stakes of his entire story feel quite low.
Michael Nye, please raise the stakes next time.
I won an uncorrected proof of this book from the publisher in a random drawing and was not obligated in any way to review it.