When I was really tiny – before school started and the concept of friends was clear – my mother used to babysit a neighbor my age, the son of a family friend. His name was Jason and because I was three, I thought that a “Jason” was a type of relation that everyone had. Kind of like a cousin, but more into Ninja Turtles.
That’s what I thought of while starting this book: Ida and Jackson were bonding before they had teeth, with no concept that their relationship could be defined as something as unextraordinary as friendship. They grew up – Ida the daughter of a single father, Jackson (and James) the sons of a single mother – so constantly in each other’s presence that it seemed inevitable that their connection had to evolve into something “more than” friends. This special relationship is best quantified by the fact that Jackson has always referred to Ida simply as “I” – a self-identifying pronoun attached to another person.
Of course, the course of true love never did run smooth. Jackson is a somnambulist – he not only walks in his sleep, but creates works of art and sometimes even behaves violently. This causes problems, first with his relationship with James and eventually with Ida.
At first, I was put off because I didn’t quite understand the rationale behind Ida and Jackson’s behavior; I felt like the characters weren’t quite developed enough for me to understand why Ida pushes Jackson into something he doesn’t want and he subsequently rejects their relationship. I let the book simmer a bit in my thoughts, trying to sort out how to write a coherent review, and it eventually dawned on me: sometimes we are misled into believing our relationships are more secure, more meaningful, even more two-way than they really are. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a familial one, or a close friendship, the other person often means more to us than we mean to them. It’s not necessarily a malicious thing; it’s just the way life goes sometimes. A failure to recognize it, though, can be devastating. Ida felt as though her lifelong history with Jackson meant their relationship transcended onto a new plane – they were more connected because of their constant presence in each other’s lives. In pushing Jackson beyond his comfort zone, Ida demonstrates that the connection may be something she wants more than something that is.
In the end, this was a thought-provoking book. I just kind of wish that the writing had been strong enough to get me there sooner. Alcott has a way with prose, but her construction is often a series of scenes strung together (a style I’ve never care for, though I know some people prefer that ultra-postmodernism in their writing), and I never really got a sense of the characters. Jackson, in particular, never truly came to life. I hope to keep an eye on Alcott in the future, even though this book ultimately fell a little short.