Welcome to the Totally Radical Sickness Collection. An auction of just about every dream bicycle ever made and sold in the grand old US of A in the period of time which has become known as…The Eighties. If as a child you ever wondered just what bike was ridden by Eliot’s brother’s pals in ET or what bicycle a Goonie would favour, well look no further. The main character of Christopher ransom’s new novel The Orphan is a collector all things eighties. Darren Lynwood is a successful businessman who decides to give a little something to those less fortunate by selling off some of his accumulated treasures. The silver dream racers of child-hoods end, his contribution to a new charitable organisation Fresh Starts. Over the dark course of the novel we explore Lynwood’s own beginnings and the possibility his own start was anything but fresh.
The story takes place in the present day but we are treated to many flashbacks to the period of his life Lynwood uses his fortune to hold on to. The events of the book take place in Boulder, Colorado. A State that feels country-like to the reader. I am not sure how accurate this is as its two most famous residents, at least to this particular reader, are Mork and Mindy and what I know of that state are in the opening credits of that very seventies/early eighties show, two very famous eighties faces who both went on to experience very different fortunes.
The time-lines and recollections of the past Ransom plays with allow us to see the then and now. With themes as dark as any explored in the original novella The Body upon which the movie Stand By Me was based on. Ransom really captures the mixture of vulnerability and cruelty teenagers are capable of. How a cool kid can be a bully and still remain just that, a cool kid. The eighties might seem like only yesterday to the adult reader but it truly is another age to the younger reader picking up Ransom’s book. Which is actually all the more reason to pick it up. The main character’s obsessions and the eighties bicycles he writes about in great detail become quite engaging, given the enthusiasm the author displays through the insights of the characters. Lynwood’s NEED TO POSSESS, THE POWER OF HOLDING ON TO THINGS. Collectors beware, there is much we lose in trying to hold on to things too tightly. There are also supernatural forces at work within the book which seem to mirror this aspect of the narrative. Human beings tortured and drained of all they are but absorbed into a monstrous gestalt. Death is not even the end for them. There is a vagueness about the horrors that populate this novel which lends them an awful aspect. There is cruelty here for cruelty’s sake. How a young life can be blighted not only by deliberate acts, but by thoughtless ones as well.
Despite the fact that this book deals with supernatural beings and people with paranormal abilities the characters are solidly realistic. Not being aware they are fictional characters on paper they behave as people in the real world would do in the face of the unusual. They point it out. For instance when a newly assembled bicycle in an otherwise empty room behaves as though it is being pedalled Darren Lynwood describes this to his wife. Who quite rightly reacts in a creeped-out fashion. It is a refreshing narrative conceit in a genre bursting with unbelievers. As though all the characters in supernatural fiction are aware they are just that and will not exceed the remit of their fictional status. That Dana Scully Syndrome I AM NOT ALLOWED TO BELIEVE. That disbelief feels forced. Her disbelief is just our real world disbelief. Surely in fiction we can take a chance without jeopardising the integrity of our tales. I WOULD RATHER NOT PUT OUR NEW BORN BABY IN THE HAUNTED NURSERY WITH THE SCREAMING SCARLET FACED DEMON FROM HADES, if you follow me. For instance when Darren Lynwood’s daughter demonstrates there may be something to her precognitive insights other than lucky random guesses it is not dismissed out of hand with a contemplative gaze out a rain soaked pane of glass. It is considered, fretted about, taken on board. As I say,quite refreshing in the genre.
Whilst it would appear the central character of The ORPHAN has made a success of his life, he is not without serious flaws. What fuels that desire to buy back his past? Why was it so important to own every bicycle of the period he grew up through? It is a condition I suspect many readers of this blog will empathise, if not totally sympathise with. This man-boy urge to possess every cool toy of his time pre-puberty. It taps into the current vogue on American television for reality based shows that explore the price we put on yesterday. In Ransom’s book it is the past that exacts its own price.
I have seen that someone compared Christopher Ransom’s storytelling and prose to that of early-period Stephen King. Which in actual fact is really just that. Early Stephen King. If you enjoy King you will certainly enjoy Ransom, it is true, but he is his own man. He has his own voice. This is one reader who would certainly be interested in exploring some more of his work. There is much to like in this book especially as it builds to a conclusion (Slight Spoiler Warning Alert!) that can only signal tragedy for all concerned. He even made me care about those involved.
Christopher Ransom has a back catalogue, and I think it is very possible the next time I go shopping for a shocking but entertaining read my eye will skip quite readily to The ‘R’ section.