Monday, November 14, 2011
Open Wounds - Under the Microscope
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Open Wounds is a YA novel. Yes, I know, I read a YA novel. Miracles never cease.
This one, though, is a little different than most of the ones I see on the bookstore shelves. This is a gritty historical novel set in WWII-era New York, about a boy, Cid Wyman, scrapping for life in a harsh neighbourhood of Queens. His mother is dead, his father abandons him, and he's left with his grandmother - his only release is the occasional chance to watch a movie on the silver screen, the sort of swashbuckling adventure that pulls him into a life utterly unlike his own. When his grandmother dies, he lives in an orphanage until, years later, a distant relative takes him in. This is Lefty, a crippled veteran of WWI who had once loved Cid's mother. Lefty teaches Cid how to fence, and how to teach fencing for the stage. Cid feels he has found a place for himself doing just this, but even a boy can have dangerous enemies.
This is a story of growing up, of old parents lost and new ones found. It's beautifully written, gritty, and not fo the YA-faint-of-heart. From childhood battles on the streets to fencing duels as a young man, this story has action and beautiful pacing - but what makes it great is its unsentimental poignancy, the truth of Cid's struggles, and his complex relationship with Lefty - savior, of a sort, though a difficult one (and a wonderfully realized character). This story is also about class and the clash of worlds, about how the stories of the grand world beyond have an impact on even the most distant lives.
I think great historical novels have this wonderful nested quality. It's not that they're simply about a historical event, but rather they are about lives that have been carefully nested within a series of historical events. These events are simply a part of the world the characters live in, like the weather or the daily traffic. The story reveals, and is revealed by, these events, and always, beyond that, there is the value of a life truly lived.