I’ve been reading backwards.
Not intentionally, or course. I discovered The Book Thief first, was mesmerized, then horrified, then gutted and left lifeless. True. It’s a powerful book with long-term effects. I fell under the spell of characters I didn’t want to like let alone mourn, then yearned to read more by this author/magician who could make me feel this way, who could speak human so well.
“There must be thousands of alleys in this city…”
Markus Zuzak transforms completely flawed characters, despicable characters that I have nothing in common with socially or geographically, into real, relatable people – people I’d offer a hug and a cup of coffee because I understand what they’re feeling. All of the sudden, I like them, care about them, and even learn from them.
“But what about the alleys in a person? In a boy? In a human?”
Under Dogs took me a while. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the characters or how they behaved. If it was my first Zuzak read, I may have put it down, but I know how he works and trust his writing. Give it time, wade through the scenes that make you uncomfortable. It brings you to a better place. A composition of three shorter books about two brothers in Australia who are sort of lost within their family. They’re trouble makers, juvenile delinquents, “losers.” I don’t know that life or that culture. I’ve never put on a pair of boxing gloves, dreamed about girls, or fought with a brother, but they’re human. And Zuzak knows that.
“How many times have I beaten myself down? I wonder. How many times have I lain there, in one of those alleys, between buildings that shiver and houses who slouch, their hands fixed in their pockets, doing nothing?”
He digs into that humanness inside of his characters and tells their story, so that no matter what that humanness is packaged up in – no matter who the shady character is, suddenly, we relate. We see that part of them that we’ve felt, experienced, feared, known… And we understand. It’s a good way to see people.
“Tonight I run through those alleys… I picture myself lying there, at the bottom of the deepest darkest alley…. Get up, I tell me. Get up.”
“Slowly, I do. I make myself realize that it’s ok to be Cameron Wolfe, and desire reaches through me again. I realize that there’s no one else in these alleyways to beat me down or help me up. There’s only me.”