Andrew Pyper’s been on my literary radar for a few years now – ever since I read his first novel, Lost Girls. (This was well before I blogged, or even knew what blogging was, so I have no review. I do remember that I thought it was smart, well-written and creepy.) A couple years ago I read Pyper’s novel. The Trade Mission, a book I had some trouble with. Not because of the writing, more because I felt like I was in way over my head. The Guardians was a much easier read, well, perhaps not easier, but more accessible.
Carl, Ben, Randy and Trevor, the novel’s narrator, grow up in Grimshaw, Ontario. It’s a one-horse town, a place they can’t wait to leave. They are solid friends and have been since they were kids. They play hockey for the Grimshaw Guardians, smoke up in Carl’s car before class and fantasize about Ms. Langham, their young and beautiful music teacher. On one level, The Guardians is about this friendship. But there’s more to this story than four boys making out with their girls and smoking dope.
Because there’s this house which just happens to be across the street from Ben’s house and as Trevor recalls: “it alone is waiting for us. Ready to see us stand on the presumed safety of weed-cracked sidewalk as we had as schoolchildren, daring each other to see who could look longest through its windows without blinking or running away.”
The Guardians opens with Ben’s suicide in the present. Trevor must return to his old stomping grounds to attend the funeral. He’s at a bit of a crossroads, Trevor. He’s recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and he’s a man of a certain age (40) and he’s feeling the full force of death’s lingering gaze. Pretty much the last place he wants to be is back in Grimshaw, where he’ll have no choice but to remember certain events from his youth that he has sworn a pact with his buddies to never talk about.
I hope Mr. Pyper will consider it a compliment when I say that The Guardians reminded me a little bit of Stephen King’s brilliant novel, It. I loved that book, not just because it scared the bejeesus out of me (which, frankly, seems silly now given that the monster was a giant girl spider that lived in a cave) but because of the friendships between the characters – which King always handles so deftly. Pyper does a fine job, too, of giving us characters to care about even when they make bad decisions. And they do; they’re kids.
The house has a part to play, too. It’s long abandoned and creepy as hell and bad things happen there, both real and imagined. Their relationship with the house drives the narrative both in the past and now, present day.
The strength of the story, though, is that it taps into that very human feeling of helplessness, and frailty. Trevor’s feeling it as his body begins to betray him. There’s also this notion of “you can’t go home again.” I’m not a 40 year-old-man, but I understand perfectly that idea of returning to the place of your youth but no longer being young. Trevor feels it when he is reunited with Randy. “That’s what we see in each other’s eyes, what we silently share in the pause between recognition and brotherly embrace.” Their youth is gone, but they are haunted by it nonetheless.
The Guardians is a sad tale, well told.