It’s taken me a very long time to write up this book because it’s a bit hard to get my head around it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the other Lynch I’ve read, Inexcusable, because it tried hard to leave a lot of blank spots–but they were obvious blank spots, that drew a great deal of attention to themselves, and it ended up being obvious in all the wrong ways. At the same time, I do appreciate what Lynch was trying to do and I admire the book for its ambition.
Freewill is way more obscure. Even the most straightforward aspects of the plot unfold very slowly, reluctantly: Will is in a woodworking class at a vocational high school. It’s not where he’s supposed to be; it’s not what he’s supposed to be doing. A student commits suicide by drowning. Other students build a memorial, with one of Will’s structures as the centerpiece…
It’s told in second person, and is probably the only YA novel I’ve ever read in second person (I could be wrong on that count). The second person perspective feels very natural as the voice of someone mired in grief and depression, though – a voice that is often self-accusatory, always second-guessing. Alternately trying to do the right thing, or at least find a right thing, and not caring.
I admire all of that, and yet, I admire it more than I like it. It seems like too much work to get through a novel that still remains cryptic, impenetrable.
It was interesting to read this one directly on the heels of Mistik Lake; both have main characters who are teenage girls with absent mothers, eldest sisters caring for their younger siblings, and brilliantly realized settings.
The eldest sister in this one is Shell (Michelle) Talent. Her mother is recently dead of some unspecified chronic illness; her father is unemployed and always off collecting for charity, having become fanatically religious after his wife’s death. Shell, meanwhile, has entirely lost her faith in God. The setting is County Cork, in the southwestern corner of Ireland, in the mid-1980s by the songs playing on the radio – but it feels older because of Shell’s family’s isolation and poverty.
Being about a dysfunctional Irish family, the elements are there for a drippy melodrama, but that’s not what this is. Its genre is firmly “beautiful writing about inchoate yearning.” For the first half of the book, the winter and spring, it remains a very quiet story about grief and the struggle to build a life in the midst of it. The plot doesn’t begin to intrude until the next section, the fall; it was at that point that I stopped noticing the beauty of the prose, because it started getting really interesting in the way that made me race through it in order to find out what would happen next! At which point it still, somehow, manages to avoid turning into a drippy melodrama.