Normal by Benjamin Langley (pub. Bloodshot Books, 6 July 2020)
Synopsis: ‘Missing for seven months, fifteen-year-old Ted Wallace wakes by the river with no memory of where he has been or what has transpired during his absence. He only wants his life to return to normal, but soon he realizes the chaos that his disappearance caused, and that his return has only made matters worse.’
What is normal? Is it when something looks the same, behaves the same? When life goes back into old established routines? This is a story documenting the struggle of that return – perhaps quite apposite considering the world’s current attempt to get back to normal.
This is a story told from the view of each family member: the disappeared – and returned – Ted, his sister Lola and his parents. All have different struggles and all experience considerable personal and emotional conflict when coming to terms with Ted’s return. The disintegration of the family is played out against Ted’s struggle to fit back in at school, his sister’s suffering as a result of typical teen bullying, and their parents’ struggles to hold on to their jobs and their sanity.
The mother is so intent on her returned child, she fails to notice her daughter, who in turn is slipping through the cracks and vanishing in a somewhat different manner. The father has disappeared from his parental role, he too doesn’t see his daughter, is convinced his son is a doppelganger, and fades from the marriage as he seeks his own answers.
Throughout you know something isn’t right with Ted: he can’t eat or drink properly, is always tired, and has a tendency to vomit up mud and sludge. Why is he continually pulled towards the river? Is he human? He thinks he is, fights to remember what happened when he left, why he was taken, who took him.
The answer to this is ultimately revealed after even greater tragedy befalls the family and this is the one quibble I have with the book. It did not reveal enough of the ‘nature’ of the truth behind his disappearance – who ‘they’ were who took him and others (I would also have loved to have had more of the stories of the other disappeared). I enjoyed the concept and the reader’s sympathy is firmly directed towards Ted, which kept me reading as I wanted to see what his ending would be.