August And Then Some
by David Prete
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Review: Grace Read
I really enjoyed reading August And Then Some. But as I started telling a friend all about the story I realised how dark and disturbing it was, and how it left me feeling vaguely traumatised.
So why did I enjoy reading it so much? Well, the central character is JT Savage, a dislocated, disillusioned teenager who is forced to grow up on his own, overcome grief on his own, and make his own way in the world. JT’s character, worldview and narrative saved me from writing August And Then Some off as a gratuitously distressing novel.
JT is an enigma. There are events in his past which create curiosity and intrigue, and are slowly revealed to us through the disjointed plot timeline. I wasn’t quite sure how old he was until near the end; he speaks with all the jadedness of a hurting old man, but he turns out to be only 18.
His jaded attitude and worn-out demeanour is explained as he shares the events of his childhood with us, and then who can blame him for sounding like a lonely old man? – it’s JT against the world. He finds a companion in 16 year old Stephanie, who seems to be a sister-figure for him to nurture and protect, and who is the only source of hope in the novel.
JT is engaging and idiosyncratic. The tone of the narrative voice is reminiscent of DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little, with the phonetic spellings to convey JT’s accent and the creative, funny and often foul metaphors and similes he uses to describe all he sees and feels: “Tonight is quiet…This is a throbbing quiet, like an ear infection” and “My heart flaps around my chest like a fish on a line”. His acerbic wit brings a small smile of amusement at times, and succeeds in conveying his emotional response to the situations he faces. So successful is his description of life that my heart would beat faster, my hand would cover my mouth in shock and I had to make concerted efforts to forget about him whenever I put the book down!
The plot is gripping. It is excellently revealed by jumping from the present to the past, as the gap between the two gradually closes. The present day narrative spans from the end of June to the beginning of September as JT adjusts to living in a basic flat after some time of homelessness in Manhattan. He is a well thought of employee at a New York construction company, and he spends his days engaged in repetitive heavy lifting (the passages of dialogue while JT is at work are brilliant!) JT hints at some dramatic events in his past as he describes how he’s haunted by the memories of some mystery we have yet to discover. This mystery leaves him distressed and painfully sleep deprived.
The plot events are grim. There is one marginally positive event for one of the characters, but on the whole, the characters are exposed to a great deal of trauma, and so the whole book makes for a heartbreaking read.
So August And Then Some is hard to summarise. It’s uncomfortable to read but brilliantly written. In fact, the two epigraphs perfectly sum up the tone of the story. It’s a mixture of heavy emotional turmoil and an exploration into how to live with the fall-out of revenge. And JT walks us through this struggle sensitively, thank goodness.