The promotional tour Andrew Smith undertook with the release of this book was dubbed "Keep YA Weird," with an accompanying online campaign and fun images. And on the general continuum of stories books tell, The Alex Crow does indeed tilt toward the stranger side--
Consider, for instance:
- The subplot about Leonard Fountain, the physically deteriorating "melting man," who might just be the most insane man on the planet, as he wanders the countryside in an old U-Haul with a radioactive bomb he's built, bullied (and constantly urged to homicide) by the voice of Joseph Stalin in his head--along with multiple other voices and hallucinations--in search of the Beaver King he needs to blow up.
- The subplot about a failed arctic expedition from the past, conveyed by the journal entries of one of its few survivors, that led to the discovery of a "devil-man" frozen in the ice.
- The scientific pursuits of the protagonists' fathers, which include bringing extinct species back to life and using them as "biodrones" to spy on--and blow up--whomever they please.
- The lone female colleague of their fathers, who has penned a book titled, Male Extinction: The Case for an Exclusively Female Species.
- The antics at Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, where the protagonists are sent for the summer since it's a free work perk for their parents, which include . . . an honest look at how teen boys act when left alone under the supervision of barely-not-teen-boys, with their constant talk of masturbation and threats of violence toward each other.
Yet it's not the weirdness that really defines this book, but the underlying weight of its connecting themes. Even during the most ridiculous, often hilarious moments there is a looming sense of menace and gravitas that maybe its not all just fun and games. That maybe, even as fifteen-year-old narrator Ariel weaves in chapters of his long, arduous flight from the Middle-East as a refugee, being resurrected from one life to the next until finally landing with a family in West Virginia, all of our efforts are really just leading us toward self-extinction.
The Alex Crow is a collection of stories, some of which have clear linear connections and some of which weave together in unexpected ways. They all converge in the end to make a larger whole, one that is compellingly interesting, disturbingly amusing, and insightfully--if somewhat scarily--satisfying.
MacLeod Andews' audiobook narration is absolutely stellar, and I highly recommend consuming the book in that medium. Smith's writing seems all the more eloquent when he brings it to life.
Two short sections from the book, the first from the start and the second from the end:
Here is a handful of dirt.
As far as its use as a medium for sustaining life--nourishing roots--it is perhaps the least capable dirt that can be found anywhere on the planet. To call it sand would be to give it some unwarranted windswept and oceanic dignity.
It is simply dead dirt, and it fills my hand.
I will tell you everything, Max, and we will carry these stories on our small shoulders.
Here are all the stories I shelve in your library.
I never thought you'd want to hear these things, Max.
And here's what I found out: The terrible stories are the same as the extinct beings that Dad brings back to life--each one pulls from the original, which never loses weight in the replication. So they all remain equal in substance for us to carry around--the boy in the clown suit, the men in the schoolroom, a refrigerator, the little dog, a coffee server named Ocean, the boys in the city of tents--populating and overpopulating, filling all the libraries inside every one of us.