Thursday, July 25, 2013

Books in 2013: #19 Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

After a short run of books that I read of my own accord, we now return to another book club pick. I wasn't sure what to think of this book after the first chapter, but somehow in chapter two it grabbed me, and didn't let go until the end.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is a book about an autistic boy named Max. Sort of. It's told from the point of view of Budo, Max's imaginary friend. Budo can only be seen by Max, so when Max sleeps, the world is Budo's to walk around in, completely invisible and unseen by others. He can neither interact with nor affect the environment around him, so he must watch as things happen, without being able to intervene.

When Max is suddenly kidnapped from school one day and everyone goes into a tizzy trying to find him (especially his parents, who disagree on the severity of Max's autism and have been having some troubles in their relationship) only Budo knows where he's gone, but he's unable to tell anyone.

This book is extraordinary. In the beginning, my hesitation lay in the fact that if you step back and think of the actual construct of Budo, it doesn't make sense. For example, Budo can interact with other imaginary friends, each of whom has powers that their person has imagined them to have. Budo can walk through walls, for example, while other imaginary friends look like giant dolls and can fly. Budo's existence is entirely limited by Max's imagination, and he can only be, do, or say whatever Max has imagined him to do. Yet every night he walks down to the local gas station and listens to the conversations of people inside the place. How could he even experience something like that, if it's entirely outside of Max's own imagination and experience? His entire existence should be beholden to whatever is inside Max's brain.

But I quickly shook off those thoughts, and just enjoyed the book for what it was, because I found by reasoning with things too much, it was really taking away from my enjoyment of it. In the end, Budo worries that his existence depends on Budo thinking he's real, but in order to save Max, he'll have to force Max to take matters into his own hands, and admit that Budo isn't real. And then, if he no longer believes in him... does he just disappear? Budo's fear of "dying," or worse, never having existed at all, is the driving force behind much of the narrative, which makes it poignant and heartbreaking at times.

This is probably the book I've recommended to more people I know (who read traditional fiction)
, than any other book I've read this year. I had one major issue with it, which I'll mention below in a spoiler section (please don't read unless you've read the book), but otherwise I thought it was fantastic.

SPOILER (highlight the section below with your mouse to see the hidden spoiler):
If I'd been the editor of this book, I would have tried very hard to convince Dicks to remove the epilogue. What I loved so much about this book is the exploration of the meaning of life and existence, and what constitutes both: do you exist because you knew you existed, or do you exist only because someone remembered you did? And when we die, what happens? No one knows, and there's some discussion of the possibility of heaven and hell, but Budo believes he exists outside the belief system anyway. What that did is open the argument to everyone reading the book, whether atheist, agnostic, or someone with faith. BUT... the epilogue changed that. When Budo looks at Max, who no longer believes in him, on the last page of the book and says goodbye wordlessly, his last thoughts in this world filled with the love he has for this little boy, I was overwhelmed with sadness and joy at such a perfect ending. So when I turned the page to see an epilogue, I could already feel my heart sink a little. And when the epilogue consisted of Budo waking up in heaven and realizing it does exist and that's where he went, my heart sank a LOT. Way to be so inclusive of every belief system throughout the book, and then come down firmly on one side in the final three paragraphs. Because of those final three paragraphs, I can only recommend this book with the caveat that it's an amazing book, but I disagreed with the final three paragraphs. Without those, it's great, and so maybe I'll just pretend those paragraphs were, like Budo, something that someone imagined, and never really existed. ;) 


Bonnie Wedster said...

I just finished this book and had EXACTLY the same thoughts about the epilogue. Thank you for expressing it so well.

Bonnie Wedster said...
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