The concept of a quest for some truth of the heart is the crux of A.J. Maxwell’s stunning debut novel, with the central character, Billy Eilish, born from that quest. With a convincing account of childhood, adolescence and adulthood, Max writes a story that could almost be a cross between Marlowe and Irvine Welsh.
In Jimmy, Billy meets the town librarian, Mariette, whose emotional needs and sense of humor lure him into their routine. Although Jimmy’s eventual suicide may bring Mariette closer to death, she never strays far from the love she shares with Jimmy. The search for truth is at the heart of Jimmy’s character and the main reason for his departure.
Billy’s twin brother, Harry, observes the outcome of their search for the truth of the heart. He is in a same situation as his brother and takes his own life after learning that he cannot love another. Harry convinces Billy to continue their search for the truth of the heart in the place of his death. It is here that Billy learns about what true love means, especially when it involves getting hurt.
Through their entire search for the truth of the heart, Jimmy and Billy do not realize how much they have in common. In fact, a commitment to being truthful toward each other keeps them together throughout their relationship. The two share a powerful love for each other and learn to deal with the discovery of their own shortcomings. This honesty eventually brings them to the place of their death and Jimmy’s funeral.
Another integral part of the book is Billy’s relationship with his mother, who has an equally strong and moving devotion to her son. She seems unable to let go of her feelings for Jimmy even after his death and the book draws a picture of how mother and son may be able to help each other heal. Their bond is real and touching and demonstrates what can happen when you commit to loving someone.
Billy and Jimmy’s story is well told, but it lacks one dimension which could have added depth to the story. The twins are not two individuals with the same story to tell. The character of Billy is an amalgamation of both Jimmy and Mariette, so the author must allow for these differences. The novel should have used separate characters to avoid confusions.
Having been published under the pseudonym of Bob Dickson, the author did some successful research and does a great job of balancing humor and spirituality. This kind of balance makes this novel stand out in the crowd of other young adult novels. However, I believe the success of the novel is a matter of taste.
Like all good novels, A.J. Maxwell’s debut novel, A.J. Maxwell’s Life, explores the truth of the heart.