Friday, August 24, 2012

Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

"Here is what I know:

My name is Budo.
I have been alive for five years.
Five years is a very long time for someone like me to be alive.
Max gave me my name.
Max is the only human person who can see me.
Max's parents call me an imaginary friend.
I love Max's teacher, Mrs. Gosk.
I do not like Max's other teacher, Mrs. Patterson.
I am not imaginary."

So begins Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend, Matthew Dicks' beguiling third novel and it's one hell of a set-up.  What the set-up doesn't mention is that Max appears to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. He is highly functioning but lacks social skills and is unable to break with routine causing him to get "stuck" as Budo most aptly puts it.  

Though quite different in tone, Memoirs has much of the same charm as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and not simply because of the malady both children suffer.  The authors know how to keep the serious aspects light enough while moving an imaginative story forward.  

Budo loves Max and is his (almost) constant companion but he has learned that, as imaginary friends go, he's a bit different.  Because Budo is as Max "has imagined him" and because Max is a bright boy, aspects of Budo's life are more developed than many of the other imaginary friends Budo has encountered, most of whom sleep when their friends sleep and are practically forgotten when the human friend is off at school.  Budo doesn't need to sleep and often wanders off to explore the outside world at night.  He regards two convenience store employees who work the graveyard shift as his friends even though they can't see him.  He has become pals with another imaginary friend, a girl named Graham, as well as other "imaginaries" (my quotation marks, not the authors') who are nothing more than popsicle sticks or a blob on a wall.  Budo understands their limitations.

Aside from his devotion to Max, Budo is keenly aware and deathly afraid of his inevitable fate--when his human friend will no longer need an imaginary friend.  Budo sees this happen repeatedly and it causes him considerable existential angst so he endeavors to make himself essential to Max in order to live forever.  Heady stuff for an imaginary friend, don't you think?  This is where Dicks shines and the book succeeds.  Throughout the book, I was touched by Budo's obvious love for his friend and his own self-awareness.  Dicks can be wildly funny one moment and achingly tender the next. 

Less successful, though still quite compelling, is the story of Max's disappearance and kidnapping which propels the bulk of the book.  Though I found this arc just a bit too tidy, it wasn't enough to cause me not to enjoy the novel a great deal.  While Max is tucked away in a basement room that looks exactly like his own by a teacher gone rogue, Budo is able to see how Max's absence tears at his parents, his teacher, Mrs. Gosk, and causes him to question his own existence.  Even though Max seems content with his routine, is Budo's desire to save Max merely self-preservation or is it the right thing to do? 

This book just came out this week.  Please go to your nearest indie bookseller or library and treat yourself.

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