Nick Mamatas’ brutal and brilliant new novel BULLETTIME should be shelved in every High School library in America. It won’t, which is a pity. Though not intended or marketed as YA, one can all too easily imagine the ruckus this little book would ignite among librarians and administrators, as it contains many core elements usually found in YA novels, only ramped up to a level of nightmare that is very real and painfully familiar to angst-ridden teens: David Holbrook is ignored by self-pitying, ill-equipped parents who allow him to be bullied at school, and worse. David copes by slugging down buckets of cough syrup, enduring his daily beatings and humiliations in a sluggish dextromethorphan haze, and it is during one of these trippy, unhappy mornings when he meets Erin / Eris, a new girl / old Goddess who both dazzles and offers new torment to our luckless (and doomed) teenaged protagonist. The reader learns in short order that David truly is doomed, for via the all-encompassing scope of the Ylem, “the canvas places are painted on,” David is able to “live every decision and detail of an infinite number of me,” zipping back and forth from first to third-person narrative, zooming-in then back out on all the possible trajectories and conclusions of his life—all of them bad. While Mamatas gleefully delivers scenes of unrelenting teenage hilarity and horror, the book is at times a sober meditation on the nature of predestination and possibility, and though often cruel, it is a book not entirely devoid of hope. Some early reviewers complained that the supporting characters were superficial and one-dimensional; I found this not to be the case. Mamatas understands too well the engines and forces that have shaped David’s parents, for example, but he does not confuse that comprehension with sentimentality, the easy escape of lesser scribblers. Mamatas is concerned with the very serious matter of lives too brief and deaths very final, and the author seems willing to risk appearing callous rather than offer flimsy reportage of the human condition. BULLETTIME is not a happy read, its laughter at times too black even for the gallows, but it is an energetic and vital book. Highly recommended.
ChiZine Publications, 8/1/2012, 225 Pages
Edited on 8/18 to add: a brief but illuminating interview w/ the author @ My Bookish Ways.