March 23, 2006

Kevin Brooks' Gray Rainy World (Our 100th Post!)

I don't know what it is, but every Kevin Brooks novel I've read has left me feeling more than vaguely disturbed. The man messes with the mind! I think it might be because the author's "day jobs" left him time to consider the stranger and more macabre aspects of the universe -- as a crematorium handyman, a postal worker, gas station attendant, and ticketmaster at the London Zoo, Brooks gained those truly keen glimpses into the little stories people act out in public... and the drudge work brought forth a brilliant and suspenseful thriller called Kissing the Rain.

"Moo" Nelson's life is one long barrage of filthy weather. He calls it 'the rain;' the taunts that fall down on his head as he goes to school, slumps in classes, walks the halls, trudges into the cafeteria, and when he slinks off home. His name is Michael, but no one ever calls him that, not even his parents. It's "Moo," it's oinking and grunting, it's "Hey, Fat Boy," and it's pity glances and it's spite and it's school. What makes it worse is that Mike isn't as bright as he could be; he is inarticulate, hears things wrong, and his poor reading skills give him the sense that everyone is smarter -- and thinner than he is.

Mike escapes from the dull drudgery in his village by eating, and every day, after school, by standing on a bridge above a two-lane highway. The bridge is his spot in the world, where movement washes thoughts from his head, washes away conflict, words, people. He can watch traffic, spot cars, entertain himself for hours on end. He experiences something like peace on the heights of the bridge, until one day he sees what looks to be a road rage incident... and inadvertently witnesses a murder.

Suddenly, Mike Nelson is a man in the spotlight. People want to talk to him. People like the police, first of all, and then the policeman's son, who is suddenly keeping him "safe" at school instead of beating him up. Then the police commissioner comes by, and lawyers start calling. Cars appear outside of his house, and his school, and someone is watching him. People like Mike's sort-of friend, Brady, want to know what happened -- and strangely, all this attention makes the rain...just...stop. Mike is some kind of celebrity. Or, maybe not.

In a true portrait of adolescent arrogance and short-sightedness, Mike's sort-of friend, Brady, takes a gamble on getting some of Mike's attention and fame, and soon it becomes clear that this is no longer a game. The novel ends on a razor's edge -- is there a single choice now that will make everything right? Or isn't there?

*This novel is currently being cast as a film directed by Peter Howitt, whose credits include Laws of Attraction, Johnny English, and Sliding Doors.

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