Monday, October 24, 2016

Understood backwards: Everything Is Changed by Nova Weetman

Can there be any drama to a story when you know the ending right from the beginning?

Everything Is Changed answers this question with a resounding YES. When I closed the book after the final page, I had to pause and catch my breath. My delirious review on Goodreads: "Cinematic and devastating."

Everything Is Changed is told in reverse, chapter about, as Alex and Jake (and occasionally Alex's girlfriend Ellie) move backwards from the moment when everything truly does change finally and forever towards the place where the changes began. The story navigates the near past to the seemingly insignificant, thoughtless moment that sets in process an avalanche of shame, clumsy grief, and regret. It's a chronicle of choices both careful and careless, the unravelling of a friendship and the loss of first love.

And yet, much like Martin Amis's Time's Arrow, this is a story which appears to put back together the lives of its characters, to make whole the brokenness which becomes clearer just as it dissolves, chapter by chapter.

It is gripping and compelling and acutely painful because, in spite of their choices, Jake and Alex are good boys, beautiful boys who love their families and each other. Jake is the sort of kid who watches crime shows just so he can chat to his single mum about the plot. Alex cares about his sister and his education. 'Jake and I are the good kids,' Alex says. 'We get mostly okay marks. We're involved in extra-curricular activities. Last night was a mistake. And now I'm not sure what to do with that.' Both of them are fiercely loyal to one another, a best-friendship for the ages. Until there is no friendship left to speak of.

Because of the format -- the reversed timeline, the alternating voices -- Everything Is Changed should be confusing. But Nova Weetman is a masterful writer and, instead, the story is simply powerful and unsettling. Alex's and Jake's voices are distinct and finely drawn. There is drama, pathos, and suspense. It is beautiful and it is terrible, a powerful fictional exposition on Kierkegaard's belief that life can only be understood backwards.

Everything Is Changed
Nova Weetman
Published October 2016 by UQP Books
262 pages