Saturday, April 30, 2016

61 Books: #23

The project: to read 61 books, of whatever sort—short, long; literature, schlock; prose, poetry: you name it—before December 4, 2016.

The first ten books can be seen here. The second ten are here. Nos. 21 and 22 are just below this post.

23. Robert Cormier, I Am the Cheese (1977) (4/30/16)
This young-adult psychological suspense thriller is told with two story lines: the first, in the present tense, involves a seventy-mile bicycle journey that 15-year-old Adam Farmer is making to visit his father. Along the way he encounters a nasty dog, some bullies, a kindly man who rescues him from a ditch and gives him a lift, a fat man on a balcony, and a teenager who steals his bike—but he gets it back.

The other story line veers between Q&A format and straightahead past-tense narrative as Adam is interviewed by the mysterious "Brint," who ostensibly is trying to help him piece key events of his life together. Haltingly, Adams summons up "clues" that culminate in his remembering that his family had been part of a witness protection program, and then a final, fateful car trip.

The odd title references the repeatedly quoted song "The Farmer in the Dell," which alludes to the family's new name and to Adam's eventual status in the world.

The story is masterfully told, but it's a bitter one with a downer of an ending that brings us full circle in more ways than one: "I am riding the bicycle and I am on Route 31 in Monument, Massachusetts, on my way to Rutterburg, Vermont, and I'm pedaling furiously because this is an old-fashioned bike, no speeds, no fenders, only the warped tires and the brakes that don't always work and the handlebars with cracked rubber grips to steer with. A plain bike—the kind my father rode as a kid years ago. It's cold as I pedal along, the wind like a snake slithering up my sleeves and into my jacket and my pants legs, too. But I keep pedaling. I keep pedaling . . ."

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