Right up until the last moments of the book, Approaching the Speed of Light leaves readers wondering what will happen to poor, broken Jody. The author, Victoria Lustbader, draws the main character with such precision that any person who has ever been hurt or watched someone hurting can identify with some of his story. Somehow none of the options laid out for him seem precisely right, and Lustbader helps the reader come to terms with the varying array of hope and hopelessness so that the ending, which should be explosive, seems just right, almost sedate, – in the best sense of the word.
The inner life of Jody, the protagonist, comes through in several different ways, including first-person narration, but also in third person stories written by the character about his childhood. Jody’s childhood was anything but normal, however. There are elements of great kindness in it, but the kindness comes from an evil source. Somehow, the author evokes pathos for such evil by highlighting Jody’s starved boyhood and his craving for love, a craving that never quite leaves him, despite his protestations to the contrary. After all, don’t we all crave love and kindness at the most basic level? The variation of voice and style, as readers drift through and around Jody’s vision, does not impede the flow of the work, but instead adds variety. When grappling with point-of-view issues, Lustbader keeps the reins tight, not wanting to get lost in other voices. Make no mistake, however, the other characters are as deep and rich as Jody, as seen from his lens.
The plot of the book is not always straightforward, and readers have to have patience with the way it unfolds. It is worth the wait. What I found most interesting about the plot is the way Lustbader convinces me to mildly “suspend my disbelief” when a story takes a particular turn or something happens that seems too unreal to be true. I didn’t mind “going there” with the prose. Coincidences happen when they shouldn’t, and there seems to be something mystical afoot that the author does not address directly, but allows the reader to find for himself.
This book is one I will be recommending to my book club since it is rife with possibility for discussion. In addition, I will be looking at it further to learn how to create characters with such depth and emotion, painted with a few spare words. There are so many ways to approach the story that I’m looking forward to sharing it with others – and to further make meaning of it for myself.