Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What's the Buzz?

The Buzz here is that I made it through another book, the singular Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? by Johan Harstad.

This is the story of how Mattias, from Stavanger, Norway, navigates his life through some very rough years of severe mental anguish.

I was the kid in your class in elementary school, in high school, at college, whose name you can't remember when you take out the class photo ten years later, to show your boyfriend or girlfriend how you looked back then. I was the boy that sat almost a the center of the class, one desk from the wall, the guy who never forgot his gym clothes, who was always ready for the test, who was never rowdy in class, but answered when he was asked, who never insisted on performing long skits in the school show, who never put himself forward as Student or Class Rep. I was the one you'd been in class with for almost six month before you knew his name. I was the one you didn't miss when I left your class and started at another school....

...and that was the way Mattias liked it. He didn't like attention, he just wanted to be left alone, in peace and quiet. He did want to be useful, to have a purpose, and so he envisioned himself as just one cog in a great machine, doing useful, meaningful work--but invisible.

Mattias idolizes Buzz Aldrin, and the idea of his being the second man on the moon. Aldrin performed all this vital research, then slipped back into anonymity. And Mattias just happened to be born on July 20, 1969, while most of the other people in the hospital were watching Neil Armstrong take those first steps on the moon.

With the comparatively obscure Buzz Aldrin as his prototype, Mattias tries to quietly pad his way through school until he develops a strong crush on Helle, a girl at school he tortures himself watching, until at their class Halloween party, Mattias works up the nerve to stand up in front of a band and--sing. Yep, he lifted up that visor on his astronaut costume, and sang very well. Ironically, Mattias has taken signing lessons, but neither of his friends know this, until this moment. The attention Mattias gets afterward is very irksome to him, but--he does get the girl, and that's important to the rest of the story.

It will be years before Mattias sings in public again. On the contrary, he becomes a gardener, since it's such a peaceful job and plants are so easy to talk to. And he's living with Helle, and for a while, he thinks things are going fine, for about thirteen years. Unfortunately, the nursery he's been working for is struggling so badly that the owner must close. While Mattias is processing this change, Helle confesses that she's in love with someone else, and she's leaving him. That's a bad week for anyone.

So, when Mattias's longtime, childhood pal and band member Jorn wants him to go on a trip to the Faroe Islands with him and a couple other bands, he doesn't say no. However, something happens to Mattias that first night that he will never be able to remember, but will result in his waking up all alone, outside in the freezing rain, with absolutely no idea where he is. As Mattias lies curled up on a bus stop bench, about to freeze to death, a car comes along.

I'm going to stop telling the story right there. In the days, weeks, and months that follow, Mattias becomes very attached to a few other people and plays an important part in the life they have together. It is the opposite of disappearing. And, as Mattias notes, no one can be invisible on The Faroes because there are so few regular inhabitants that every one of them will surely notice everyone else. The main characters populating Mattias's experience are wonderfully written and I liked all of them. Also, the description of The Faroe Islands is appealing and intriguing enough to make me want to go.

Johan Harstad has written so many good passages into this book that the pages seemed to melt away, and four hundred and seventy pages didn't seem long. And I really must go listen to The Cardigans, too....

Thank you, LibraryThing, for this Early Reviewer gem.


Doug said...

Ah! This is the book that got us those cool pics.

actonbell said...

Yes, and made me YouTube The Cardigans, who I do recognize now.

TLP said...

Sounds like a great book. So, you HAVE this one as a real book? If so, gimme.