I've just finished reading his debut novel, Half Mast, which will be published in mid-September 2002 by Sutro Press, and the one thing I can tell you about this book is that I empathize. It's the story of a young man growing up smart in a society where that isn't appreciated. It's the story of a kid who really doesn't know what he's up against trying to make it through high school despite the various things that present themselves as obstacles. But really, it's the story of how I wanted to kill a kid named Paul.
Okay, so the kid wasn't named Paul in Half Mast, and it really isn't my life, but the parallels are on the frightening side. The book is a series of diary entries made by Alex, the narrator of the story, as a means to reflect on the things he experienced in his youth. We are quickly dropped knee-deep into the life of a high school geek child, listening to his strange take on the world and watching as he is victimized and terrorized by the pretty faces in the yearbook.
This book isn't Encino Man. It's not a quaint little tale about how That Strange Kid In Class learns to unwind a little bit, gets the girl, and teaches us all a little something about ourselves. I don't think Christopher Null is that kind of person. Instead, this is a very realistic retelling of how a regular kid can get shaken down enough to make him want to shake back. That's something I can speak on from personal experience.
I remember one time in high school standing outside the house of one of the people who had been terrorizing me trying to figure out which room was his. I was walking through a plan in my mind to kill him in such a way that nobody would think to point their fingers at me. I kept saying to myself that I would be able to do it if this kid kept on hurting one of my best friends at the time. In reality, I don't think I could have done it, and I'm pretty sure that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was to be able to get away with it, but it was there as an option, and that made me feel better.
I sound sick. Well, read this book and take a peep into what it's like to be that kind of victim. The honest truth is that the notion of killing your oppressors isn't unique to the Columbine Kids, and it's not even unhealthy. Read the Bible sometime. Do you really think that of all God's creations, he chose the Jews as his chosen people, beloved above all others? What kind of a God would bother making that distinction? But being the chosen people, being punished for the sins of the father for the land of milk and honey which is just around the next torment, that's how people make their way through the desert.
Because this book isn't Encino Man, the ending doesn't involve a silly moment of final retribution at a school dance where the bad guy gets humiliated and the good guy and his friends do the stupid line dance that the entire school suddenly takes up, having now accepted that the tables have been turned. Instead, Null paints a picture that leaves me wondering about what my own life would be like if I had taken the bull by the horns and tried to right the wrongs that plagued me. Alex has much to prepare for, much to deal with, and much that he could never have expected to face, and his decisions will forever alter the person that he is going to become.
One of the things I liked about this book was the way that Null turns Alex into a very real character early on by refraining from making him seem too righteous. Alex is a pretentious prick, the sort of kid who quietly hates everything he doesn't immediately understand. For example, Alex hates organized sports and the whole "Go Team" mentality that goes along with it, and the way that the author pens his commentary on the subject explains a lot about the relationship that Alex has to his own father, to his school, and to his attackers.
There were times while reading this book that it took a little bit of work to keep going. Alex the anti-hero is at times a deeply frustrating character to listen to, but that feeling disappeared quickly and was easy to get through as the story unfolds. The idea and the appeal of this book is that we're going to see something that we never get to see, a raw and frightening thing that we're going to remember for quite some time. We're going to watch a kid figure out how to become a killer, and the author leads us down that pathway with skill.
So yes, Christopher Null stole my life, but he also showed me just what that road less traveled looks like. He stole the stories of so many of us when he wrote this book, and I bet not a few of you will read this and be as surprised as I was to see yourself looking back at you from the pages of the book. To varying degrees I think we can all feel for Alex, and we can all understand the road he's walking down, even if we never made it to the end.