REVIEW: Oliver Loving, Stefan Merrill Block

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

One warm, West Texas November night, a shy boy named Oliver Loving joins his classmates at Bliss County Day School’s annual dance, hoping for a glimpse of the object of his unrequited affections, an enigmatic Junior named Rebekkah Sterling. But as the music plays, a troubled young man sneaks in through the school’s back door. The dire choices this man makes that evening —and the unspoken story he carries— will tear the town of Bliss, Texas apart. Nearly ten years later, Oliver Loving still lies wordless and paralyzed at Crockett State Assisted Care Facility, the fate of his mind unclear. Orbiting the still point of Oliver’s hospital bed is a family transformed: Oliver’s mother, Eve, who keeps desperate vigil; Oliver’s brother, Charlie, who has fled for New York City only to discover he cannot escape the gravity of his shattered family; Oliver’s father, Jed, who tries to erase his memories with bourbon. And then there is Rebekkah Sterling, Oliver’s teenage love, who left Texas long ago and still refuses to speak about her own part in that tragic night. When a new medical test promises a key to unlock Oliver’s trapped mind, the town’s unanswered questions resurface with new urgency, as Oliver’s doctors and his family fight for a way for Oliver to finally communicate — and so also to tell the truth of what really happened that fateful night.

On average, more than one school shooting takes place in the United States every week. This is a topic that we need to be talking about, that books need to be written about. We can’t just keep brushing it under the carpet, sharing a few sad thoughts on social media when they happen, and then pushing them away until the next time it inevitably occurs. As the other novel on this topic I read this year, Only Child, illustrated, children as young as five are put through school shooting drills.
They know that school is not a safe place for them.
Only Child was a more traditional and cut-and-dry look at school shootings - I know, that sounds incredibly cold and flippant and blasé but honestly I don’t know how to explain the difference in any other way that that - because the main character’s brother was hit by the shooter and died instantaneously. A funeral - even a body in some cases when a person is lost at sea - gives people closure; it allows them to move on, and do what they can to heal.
They’re not stuck in limbo.
The family in Oliver Loving are different, because although Oliver was hit by the shooter, he did not die - instead he was catastrophically injured but remained alive if near-completely comatose. Every time a school shooting happens, we see the faces of the lost, but it is a completely different to consider the people who are not strictly fatalities.
I can not imagine that out of the scarily large number of victims of school shootings (honestly, I do not even want to know the number), not one of them is in a similar situation to this novel’s protagonist. And that no family is dealing with the same perpetual limbo that his loved ones inhabit.
I cried. I know, my heart is as cold as ice, but I did.
Oliver’s situation left me completely at a loss.
All of the thoughts about what kind of man this boy could have been feel all that more tangible when his fate still rests in midair; and I wanted, more than anything, for a miracle to happen.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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