Oh hello little book loving friends who love to read books as much as I do, how are you doing? How’s your early summer days treating you?
I wish I could say that I am able to write Blitzed Books columns on a more regular basis, but unfortunately, book reading is a great joy of mine that I am not so commonly granted. Being in school and working 12hr days certainly has it’s draw backs. But, I’ve been drawn out of my readerly funk lately with a loving gift from our pals at Simon & Schuster Canada, an advance reading copy of “The Only Child” by Andrew Pyper.
Now, Andrew Pyper is no stranger to Blitzed Books. I previously wrote about his book The Demonologist and was pleasantly surprised at how very talented he was at writing. That seems like such a weird thing to say – a writer being talented at writing, but in truth, many are not. I liken back to the great Charles Bukowski poem, “So You Want To Be A Writer”:
“if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it……”
Andrew Pyper doesn’t have this problem. Where I fell in love with his writing of professor David Ullman, I again found myself requiring pause over The Only Child’s doctor Lily Dominick. Andrew Pyper is able to write quite skillfully as a man within the voice of a female.
“It took in this moment, however, for Lily to realize she;d never had much affection for the man, their entanglement built upon mutually satisfying manipulation more than attraction” – pg 87
This talent is not granted to all writers. So, while I will endeavour to not spoil the story of this book, because I actually want you to go out and buy the goddamn thing, I will be including some of my favourite lines from this manuscript, and I recognize that my page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not line up exactly to the finished publication. I consider myself to be something of a wordsmith and I enjoy and simultaneously envy good sentences.
I also greatly enjoy when writers leave little tells about their nationalities within their pages:
“she had few close friends she could call to go with her to prenatal classes or fetch the ketchup potato chips she had nocturnal cravings for..” – pg 87
Ketchup chips are a distinctly Canadian snack food, and my favourite.
So here’s the backstory to The Only Child. Dr. Lily Dominick is a forensic psychiatrist who works with New York’s most dangerous criminals cum mental patients. She receives into her care Client 46874-A, a man who, for no reason at all, ripped the ears from another man’s head, and claims to be over 200 years old.
“You don’t have to be immortal to be sick” – pg 51
As she speaks with this predator, attempting to carefully deduce what diagnosis would be best suited for him, this unnamed man reveals something – he knew Lily’s mother. As the man reveals his background to her, one that is so far fetched, it can only be said to be ridiculous, she understands him.
“He was ambitious in the truest sense, which is to say he may have been insane himself” – pg 56
Lily understands that many psychotic criminals before this one have employed similar mind games, some for the thrill of it, and some because their illness bestows unto them delusions and horrors so great that they are beholden to share them with the world.
Lily’s mother was viciously murdered in a small rural cabin in Alaska. Lily being the only witness to her mother’s final moments.
“I can feel these things, the impulse to kill and the tender yearnings of a parent, without contradiction.” – pg 173.
Something about this client sparks a change in Lily and when he escapes from her care at the forensic mental hospital, she embarks on an adventure to find out who this man is, and to find out if blood really is thicker than water.
“The two puncture marks on his neck and the blood haloes around his head are the only indications that he will never wake up.” – pg 140
In her adventure she finds out that monsters can be human, and that sometimes we are what we most fear.
“The one you call Michael isn’t a living thing, he’s a fucking diagnosis. The real monster – is you.” – pg 160.
With kind nods to Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Robert Louis Stevenson, The Only Child is very able to grab the readers attention with steel trap jaws and hold it. I wanted to know what was going to happen on the next page, I was never bored and I felt Lily’s struggle very poignantly. We all sometimes grow to hate our parents.
“Hidden in a London hotel room watching her parents on a recording of the first moments of her life – a family divided by time, by death, and now, singing the same song” – pg 150
There are such moments of good back and forth between characters that are also worth mention:
“He directed me to a club where his attire drew attention, but after ordering oysters and two bottles of good champagne, not enough for us to be asked to leave. I grew increasingly impressed by the amount of wine and then gin he put down his throat, his Adam’s apple leaping up and down like the rest of him.
‘Call me Skivvy, my friends do’
‘Is that we are now, friends?’
‘If you are paying for all this? The very best of friends..'” – pg 152
The interactions and wordplay and the dialogue is careful, never forced. The easy camraderie that comes from these two just-met drinking buddies is one that I have highlighted and dog eared, simply for the convincing nature of the interaction. Who hasn’t become best friends with someone who paid for a few rounds?
“I was seeking objectivity, but I realize now that such a thing is impossible when it comes to storytelling.” – pg 154
I really enjoyed The Only Child. I think that there are great things ahead for Andrew Pyper and I look very much forward to reading more of what he has to offer.
I would like to extend a kind thanks to Andrea at Simon & Schuster for being goodly enough to send us a copy of this book, and for thinking of us.
All photographs taken by the oldblackgoat.