Doc Reviews “Best Boy” by Eli Gottlieb

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Books which deal with autism in any of its forms are almost assuredly going to be compared, at some point, to Mark Haddon’s outstanding “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Doc’s recent read, “Best Boy” by Eli Gottlieb, was also thrown into that mix. The problem with making this type of comparison is that you set the reader up for unfortunate and misleading expectations. We poison the well for the reader. How many books were letdowns because of comparisons to “Gone Girl” in the past two years? If you must know, that number is 814. Sigh.

With that out of the way, let me offer that I took the comparison with a grain of salt, digitally cracked open this e-book’s cover, and began to enjoy it right away. At the age of eleven, the narrator, Todd Aaron, has been placed in a “therapeutic community” for his autistic tendencies (and his family’s inability to cope). Present-day Todd is now in his fifties, and looks back methodically at the events which brought him hundreds of miles from his real home, and we are given a glimpse into some of the abuses he faced from various members of his family because he is different. Through the opening pages of the book, we are also introduced to Todd’s way of life as he has come to know it at the Payton Living Center, now one of the “elders”.

The book’s promise continues when we are offered the first glimpses of conflict in Todd’s life – a roommate that is passively confrontational, if that’s a thing, and a new member of the Payton staff, to whom Todd takes an immediate dislike and distrust. We’re also eventually introduced to a new patient, Martine, to whom Todd takes an immediate shine. These three characters create the cocktail for what is sure to be a massive and heartwarming climax of retribution, restitution, and harmonious understanding between Todd and his remaining family.

Wrong. And that’s okay; I’m not reading to find a syrupy Hollywood ending to my books. I rather enjoy how this book ends up; it’s more than appropriate, it feels complete. But there are a number of problems I have with the novel, and which keep Doc’s grade a little lower than what some breathless critics are offering.

First, without giving anything away (that’s not Doc’s style), there are three or four important loose plot ends that are never convincingly tied up (in some instances, not addressed at all). The author has allowed Todd’s antagonists to leave unnecessary strands of thread dangling at the end of the book; the lack of resolution in some cases can be explained as separate plot devices, but in this case, it had the odor of simple incompletion. For me, anyway.

In addition, there appears to be a ton of additional details going on in the narrative that Todd, our narrator, would likely not be able to incorporate into the telling of his story. I might be over-analyzing, and that’s fine, but I tend to take the whole package into account when I’m reading. And when a narrator begins providing details that seem to go beyond his or her capabilities, I tend to regard that as a bit of a poetic crutch. I’m probably being unfair.

In all, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, Doc gives “Best Boy” a firm B+. Nothing wrong with this novel other than a few missing pieces and some extra narrative package that I just felt wasn’t true to the main character’s ken. Hope you enjoy it!

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