If the folks over at the New York Times Review Of Books are looking for fresh novels by other than established writers or well-connected new ones, they should dust off their keyboards and surf over to Smashwords or Amazon's Kindle Book Store, where they'll find an astonishing new novel by Randy Attwood.
Crazy About You is set in the most unlikely of places, in and around a state mental institution in west central Kansas. Attwood's protagonist, a high school student nearing the end of his junior year, is at once naïve and wise beyond his age. These qualities, combined with growing up on the "asylum" where is father works, have created within him a gut-wrenching combination of empathy and Everyman's selfishness that shape him forever and come to a head during one wildly dramatic week when his father and estranged mother are out of town.
Given the protagonist's years, one might dismiss this as a coming-of-age story. It is not. Less a psychological thriller than a psychiatric adventure, the novel fearlessly reveals ways in which human beings face their choices and emotions and those of others -- from loyalty and deceit to cruelty, despair, and joy -- things we all sometimes learn to deal with but never totally control. It is at once gripping, brutal, and tender.
It's not a perfect novel. For some, a dissertation early in the novel on the historical mistreatment of the mentally ill may distract from the narrative. And few short but descriptive sex scenes, a couple of them briefly-described but violent, may upset some readers. This is not a novel for young readers.
Still, Crazy About You defies categorization, but suffice to say that those looking for pure excitement and good story telling will not be disappointed. Nor will those who thrive on the deeper layers of psychological tension. Although the novel often deals with forces out of the protagonist's control, it also tackles tough moral choices that indelibly shape our lives, all within the context of a fantastical drama that will leave the reader musing for days. But ultimately, this is a story about absolution. If you have not laughed out loud often and shed a few tears by the end, you'd better see a shrink.
While Attwood's style and story-telling skills are very much his own, John Irving fans will enjoy this book immensely. New York Times, heads-up!