This is a very quiet, understated ode to solitude and pain. Beautiful in the complexity it expresses quite simply. I have a personal soft spot for magical realism and this executes it very well, making for a wholly unique and compelling story. 4.5/5 stars
There’s not too much good about Lucky Linderman’s life. He’s bullied relentlessly and yet his school counselor focuses on other things. His parents don’t know how to handle it either, both escaping into their own pursuits. But Lucky has dreams that are more than dreams. Dreams where he is brave and strong, where he fights every night to save his grandfather, who never returned home from Vietnam.
I still can’t get over how slow and quiet this book was. It’s not action-packed or romance-loaded tangle of crazy emotion. Instead, it’s exactly the opposite, a patient unraveling of common human feeling through characters who are perfectly imperfect. Lucky has been failed by his parents, yet (even) when told from his perspective, it’s almost impossible to hate them. Each character is struggling with his or her own loneliness, pain, or insecurity and each has a redeeming quality as well. With, perhaps, the exception of Nader, Lucky’s bully, but we are limited to Lucky’s perspective. Lucky is the center of his story, and his journey is compelling, but every other character woven in has their own story, one that reflects and expands on the theme that fear and pain are a prison cell, one that can sometimes be broken.
I, weirdly, don’t have a lot of experience reading magical realism, considering what I have read I’ve adored. Garcia-Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is probably my second favorite book that I’ve had to read for school (after To Kill a Mockingbird, which is probably my favorite book, period.) Sarah Addison Allen can be placed in the genre as well, and between the two books of hers I’ve read and Solitude, this is my fourth foray into magical realism. And I’m still loving it. Everybody Sees the Ants is particularly successful at using its magical elements to add layers that otherwise would not exist to a story. Along with being a necessary and welcome bit of comic relief, the ants are a glimpse into Lucky’s deepest consciousness, a different perspective than even the thoughts we get directly from him. His dreams weave in his insecurities, the things that immediately worry him, and, of course, are the major component relating Lucky’s life to his grandfather’s. This magical element weaves two otherwise largely disparate stories into one, making both much more relate-able and real. It’s excellently executed and the writing and flashback/flashforward style serve to make the story extraordinary as well.
Definitely recommended, for pretty much everyone. It is relatively uneventful, if, like me, you are used to massive battles and epic romances and invading aliens and other assorted insane happenings. It is a quite short book, though, and the beautiful writing, style, and message make it easily readable. I’m so glad I found this, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more from Ms. King.