"Off Track," by Michael Hultquist, is a startling, disturbing, deeply honest novel, and I want the world to know about it.
It opens at the moment of critical choice in the unblessed life of twelve-year-old Gary Sanderson, the moment when – beaten, frightened, worn down, and powerless but for the cold metal in his hands – he shoots and kills his father. He pulls the trigger too late to save his mother from the man's cruelty. She dies hours later. The action shifts quickly after that to the time four years later when Gary's world tilts from the holding pattern made possible by imposed structure, and the heavy iron pendulum of choice swings belatedly toward him, as unstoppable as the trains that thunder symbolically through Gary's days and nights.
Hultquist has fashioned the novel superbly from start to finish, his prose straightforward but also uniquely creative and beautiful. With impeccable timing and use of atmospheric shift, he foreshadows just enough to keep the reader on track a timid half-step ahead of Gary. Inevitably the moment of denouement barrels down on us and thunders by, leaving Gary stripped of defenses and knowing finally who and what he is and – more importantly – what he is not, and leaving the reader breathlessly thankful.
I purchased this novel and started to read it because I wanted to see what kind of books Lilley Press was publishing. I kept reading because there was nothing I wanted to do more. For anyone who has ever hidden bits of past that seemed they would explode in open air, for every wounded teen and anyone who has ever loved a child, for anyone whose soldiers have come back from war turned inside out by what a soldier has to do, this story will strike and chime like a bell in the night.
Comparisons are flawed by nature, but when I read this novel, I could not help but be reminded in some ways of Chris Crutcher's acclaimed novels for teens. I'm certain the honesty of Gary Sanderson's story would lead some to deem it inappropriate for youth. As happens with Crutcher's works, it may end up on someone's list of banned books. It will be sad if such a reaction prevents it from finding its way to the eyes of one young person who needs to read it. It would be a great shame if, because this is an e-book, because it is published by a small independent house, this novel escapes attention.
As I said, I want the world to know about this book, and for that reason if anyone would like to quote, post, paste, print, or otherwise reproduce my remarks, they are free to credit me and do so, with my thanks.