Friday, January 24, 2014

Stones by Polly Johnson

Stones by Polly Johnson is a coming-of-age novel set in Brighton, England. Johnson’s descriptions of the seaside community set the stage for this story about Coo, a sixteen-year-old girl still reeling from the death of her older brother some months before. Brighton is a cold, blustery and harsh place, as is Coo’s house, where she and her parents have settled into a chilly and silent impasse. Coo spends much of her time skipping school and hanging out at the pebble-covered beach. Here, she runs into an assortment of homeless characters and befriends one of them, an alcoholic named Banks. Her brother was an alcoholic as well, and the splintered events leading up to his demise are revealed slowly as Coo navigates this new friendship. She feels some measure of guilt about the circumstances of her brother’s death, and because after years of dealing with his abuse, she doesn’t miss him. Her best friend and schoolmate, Joe, seems to guard secrets of his own, and her parents stumble around in a haze, unsure of how to deal with Coo and her increasingly unpredictable behaviors.
I really liked that the setting mirrored the emotional strain of the characters; Johnson portrayed the struggle that exists in any relationship—the desire to know and to be known. It’s a story about what in modern parlance might be called codependency, the allowances we make in the name of love, the despair of addiction, and the often one-sided nature of any adoration. But this is a page-turner, too. The mystery of Coo’s guilt, the strange homeless man who threatens her, the building drama of her attempts to save Banks—the plot had me racing along while I was entranced with the beauty and insightfulness of Johnson’s writing. And I kept thinking about Carson McCuller’s observations about the beloved and the lover, and how they are “from different countries.” Every lover knows that “his love is a solitary thing.” Full quote from The Ballad of the Sad Cafe here. Each character in Johnson's story suffered from love in one way or another, and found that the beloved was perhaps an image of their own making.
Stones is a wonderful debut novel, and I’ll watch for what comes next from Ms. Polly Johnson. Available in ebook for a low introductory price here and very highly recommended by me!


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka