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Book Review – How the Trouble Started by Robert Williams

Synopsis:  Donald Bailey is sixteen. He can’t forget the trouble that happened when he was eight, when the police were called. His mother can’t forget either and even leaving their home town doesn’t help. Then Donald befriends Jake, who is eight years old and terrifyingly vulnerable. As he tries to protect him, Donald fails to see the most obvious danger. And that the trouble might be closer than he thinks…

Following Robert Williams’s prize-winning debut Luke and Jon, How the Trouble Started is a dark, gripping novel about childhood, morality and the loneliness of children and adults. Told with Robert Williams’s characteristic warmth, humanity and deceptively light touch, it is a story about how our best and worst intentions can lead us astray, and the moments we can never leave behind.

First Line:  The police were involved over the trouble.

Random Quote:  … you can’t keep your mind as strong as fortress walls forever.  You will wake up in the middle of the night and the walls to your brain will be as mushy as gravied potato.  Some nights you will dream, and you can’t stop dreams.  Some mornings when you wake you’ll be attacked before you get a chance to raise your guard.  And after each attack it takes longer to rebuild the walls, and you know that there will be another attack on its way and you get tired and it becomes harder to keep your head above water, and you start to wonder if trying to keep your head above water is worth it any more.


Review:  This novel had me absolutely riveted for the first two-thirds of its story.  Donald, the young main character of How the Trouble Started, is utterly engaging.  His emotional and intellectual journey towards understanding the events that occurred when he was essentially a toddler is a compelling and brutally honest one.  The realities that he experiences as a consequence of his own actions are heartbreaking and resonant even when you grasp the horror of “the trouble.”  It is this resonance that breaks your heart and mind wide open as you glimpse emotion and struggle that you recognize as it is experienced through the eyes of an overgrown child who has had no support in dealing with his own life.  As poor and questionable as his choices and acts are he is still worthwhile and knowable and this aspect of the novel shakes the reader to the core.

And then we come to the last third of the novel.  It feels as if the writer either ran out of steam or was told to keep it short as he barrels his way towards an incoherent, incomplete, and inconsistent resolution marring the effect of an otherwise brilliant novel.  Definitely worth the read, but be forewarned.  There be dragons.

FTC Disclosure:  Copy for review from publisher via NetGalley

Publishing Information:  Farber and Farber – July 5, 2012

Format:  Kindle

Published inBooks

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