Enter the world of Todd Aaron, longtime resident of Payton Living Center, autistic fifty-something hero and heartbreaker, narrator of Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb. To say that reading Best Boy is to enter Todd’s world is gross understatement. Todd has much to say.
He will tell you about his lovely mother, long gone now, who told him he was a best boy. He will tell you about his brain-injured roommate, Tommy Dean, and the newest staff member, Mike the Apron, whose resemblance to his dead father frightens him, bringing “badness” into his life. And Todd will fill you in on the rest of his cast, too. Martine, the new one-eyed resident, who has romantic intentions and encourages him to go off his meds to feel “normal” again. And Nick, his brother and guardian, smarmy in every way.
Best Boy is a wonderful read. Gottlieb’s writing is just so, I don’t know, real. I ached with Todd in the most empathetic reading experience I’ve had in a long time. Gottlieb as Todd is a marvel, describing pure frustration so fluidly that my body zinged with Todd’s:
“I went into my room feeling the nerve-strings yanking on the bones of my face and in my neck and shoulders and down my sides….Standing in the very center of my room I opened my mouth and gradually felt the electric pulling of my body come over me. My fists clenched and my face drew back until it was in the shape of a scream…The volts were filling a room in my head. They were bulging against the windows of that room. I was biting down just a little bit less than breaking the skin. If I broke the skin and the volts came then I would see the white again and from the forgetting middle of that white I would kick at things until a Dr. Strong was called. But the windows held as the volts banged against them…”
But Todd is our hero, so be prepared for a full array. Somehow, Todd knows to tell us from the beginning that his head feels a “funny new pressure… because something had happened for the first time in many years and it made me confused and happy, it did. I’d just had an Idea.”
Oh, how we underestimate people.