A Review of Asher’s Fault by Elizabeth Wheeler
Bold Strokes Books, 2013
by REBECCA, October 14, 2013
“The day fourteen-year-old Asher receives a Minolta camera from his aunt Sharon, he buys the last roll of black-and-white film and takes his first photograph—a picture of a twisted pine tree. He’s so preoccupied with his new hobby he fails to notice his dad’s plan to move out, his increasing alienation from his testosterone-ridden best friend, Levi, and his own budding sexuality. When his little brother drowns at the same moment Asher experiences his first same-sex kiss, he can no longer hide behind the lens of his camera. Asher thinks it’s his fault, but after his brother dies, his father resurfaces along with clues challenging Asher’s black-and-white view of the world. The truth is as twisted as the pine tree in his first photograph.” (Goodreads)
Asher has a lot going on. He’s falling in love with photography, but he isn’t quite sure what appeals to him about it so much. His father has moved in with another woman and seems to have abandoned him. His best friend, Levi, has joined the football team and they don’t have anything in common anymore. And all of that is before he experiences the tragedy of his brother’s death. At church one day, Asher meets Garrett, the new kid in town, and goes with him to the local pool with his brother in tow. In the bathroom at the pool, Asher and Garrett share a sweet kiss that clues Asher in to parts of his sexuality that he’d never recognized. At the same time that Asher is getting his first kiss, though, his brother drowns in the pool.
Asher’s Fault is, first and foremost, a quiet book, which I like. It’s about one boy’s coming of age against the backdrop of his parents’ divorce, his brother’s death, and his growing distance from his friends. Asher’s sexuality is not at the forefront of the novel, though there is certainly the implication that he connects the first stirrings of his homosexuality with not preventing his brother’s death. The guilt Asher feels, though, is shared by others, so this connection is a character trait not an authorial indictment.
The details of Asher connecting with the world through the lens of his camera are strong, as is Asher’s slow realization that his family situation is more complicated than he originally thought. It’s also nice to see a character—especially a queer character—who was raised religious and for whom religion is important, who isn’t totally messed up and traumatized because they were taught that their sexuality is sinful. All in all, Asher’s Fault is well-written and I definitely enjoyed it.
Still, though, it felt like there were some things missing; it almost read like a condensed version of a larger, more detailed story. I was shocked, at one point, to learn that a year had gone by with no indication. Since some of the chapters are preceded by a parenthetical description of a photograph, I wondered if this flashbulb skipping ahead in time was a purposeful narrative choice to echo photography, but it’s not consistent enough to feel purposeful. There are also some blank spots in terms of Asher’s character; I felt a bit like he wandered around in a mild fugue state, which might function as an indication of his grief and guilt over his brother’s death, but really just seemed like a bit of stiff characterization. I enjoyed a small family mystery that unfurled in the final quarter of the novel, but it felt more like slipping in backstory than something that moved the plot forward.
While I definitely enjoy a slow burn, I didn’t get as full a sense of these characters as I wanted at all. Garrett, who seemed like he would be a main character, disappeared after the kiss, and Asher mostly has superficial interactions with schoolmates. Again, realistic, sure, but not terribly compelling, and I think the lack of a real friend for Asher deprived the author of some great chances to show us his growth as a character.
The structure is a bit inconsistent, too. The book opens with what seems like it will be a frame narrative: “I might as well have been blind for the first fourteen years of my life. . . . After what Dad did, you’d think she’d get it. . . . Take the day I got my old-school Minolta, for instance.” But then, rather than moving to the present and returning to the frame story at the end, it turns out not to be a frame at all; instead, we move forward from there. So, there’s a knowingness to the beginning—the suggestion that this is being written from the far future, where the character is wiser and has something to say—that promises insights and closure that aren’t delivered throughout the rest of the book.
Asher’s Fault is a debut novel, and I’d definitely be interested to see Elizabeth Wheeler‘s next effort. It was a fast, enjoyable read, even if it had some rough spots. You can check out some of the photographs described in Asher’s Fault on her website.
procured from: I received an ARC of Asher’s Fault from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Asher’s Fault by Elizabeth Wheeler is available now.