Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Boy Swallows Universe is about Eli Bell, a boy growing up in the poorer outskirts of Brisbane, Australia. I was interested in it because I spent a month in the suburbs of Brisbane in 1994 and thought I might find familiar landscape.
At first it seems like maybe this is a typical coming of age novel, until you realize Eli's brother only speaks by drawing words with his finger, and that the parental figures the brothers live with (Mom and boyfriend) deal heroin. At that point the novel takes a turn toward Vietnamese drug wars, machetes and missing limbs, mysterious rooms, crime reporters, and estranged fathers. .
The style of writing made me question everything - is Gus alive, does the room exist, is time linear, does everything that happened have an upside down calculator word - but after I finished it I wasn't clear the author intended to deter me in that way. But there is a level of surreality to it that felt confusing when you read the afterword, where the author says he basically wanted to write about his childhood and this is it.
I didn't know about heroin in Australia, but did some reading about it after finishing the book. It felt like a different sort of crisis in that it happened in daylight, in suburbia, and to family members and neighbors, not just sequestered to inner cities.
I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley. The book came out in the United States on April 2, 2019, but I've been hearing about it since the fall from my Australian reading friends!
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