My theory stands on shaky legs, but I think for a novel with a first-person narrator to succeed, the reader must both like and believe in the narrator.
Craig Lancaster succeeds on both counts with "Edward Adrift," just as he did in the first of these tales, "600 Hours of Edward," and hats must be removed in honor of that accomplishment, because Edward is not an easy character.
He is a fully grown adult with Asperger's syndrome, and in the first book especially, he does not play well with others.
In that fine novel, "600 Hours of Edward," when we first meet him he is estranged from almost all of humanity. His wealthy father has kicked him out, although he provides Edward with a home where he lives alone. A young boy crashes into Edward's obsessively compulsive life and becomes Edward's first friend, ever. The boy's mother becomes Edward's second friend, and they help Edward deal with his relationship with his mother and father.
It's a good book. So is "Edward Adrift."
Edward has an unusual narrative voice. He tends toward denoted meanings, not connotative meanings, and holds tightly to logic when he can. He loves language, and will often insert parenthetic notes to say he loves a word. An example:
"'Get out,' I say between gasps for air, and I say it with such emphasis (I love the word 'emphasis') that my ribs really hurt, and I say 'WOWowowowow,' and Sheila Renfro falls out of her chair onto the floor on all fours, laughing."
In "Edward Adrift," Edward is having a real "shitburger" of a year.
He's still dealing with the death of his father, he is having to do without his trusted counselor because she retired, is trying to get along with a new counselor, and has just been fired from his job, as a handy man at a newspaper in Billings, Montana.
Not that he needs the money. He is, as he's been told, "fucking loaded," because his father left him a lot of money.
But the job at the newspaper -- painting stripes on the parking lot, helping to clean the press -- gave him purpose, a place to go.
And, worst of all, his two friends, the boy Kyle and his mother Donna, have moved away, to live with Donna's boyfriend, Victor.
Edward is, indeed, adrift.
And then comes the phone call with Donna, when she tells him that she is having trouble with Kyle, who has been acting up at school, where he is in the seventh grade. Calling teachers names, letting his grades drop. And, he is trouble at home. Would Edward come visit with them for a while, see if he can help Kyle?
But before he leaves for his road trip from Montana to Idaho, in the Cadillac DTS his father left him, he goes to the mall to buy a cellphone. At Donna's suggestion.
He is shown some phones by a young sales woman, who uses the word "bitchin'," then apologizes for using that word. But Edward doesn't mind. She shows him an iPhone and describes its price and the costs of data plan.
"Both of those number seem steep to me, but I remember that (a) I'm fucking loaded and (b) I wouldn't want to disappoint this woman who keeps telling me how smart I am for zeroing in on the iPhone."
Then: "It's 11:23 p.m. I have spent the past six hours and thirty-five minutes playing with my bitchin' iPhone, minus the time it took for eight pee breaks.
"It is the greatest thing I have ever owned. That might be hyperbole, but I don't care."
He talks about why the phone is great and how it will change his life, then:
"I don't think my bitchin' iPhone is enough to countermand (I love the word 'countermand') my declaration that 2011 has been a shitburger of a year, but maybe it can make 2012 the best year ever.
"I leave tomorrow."
The eight pee breaks are the result of Edward having become a Type II diabetic, and the meds he's put on to help him deal with it, including a diuretic. Edward is not terribly upset about his new regimen, because he really likes to keep records -- the time he wakes up each day (and how many times that year he was awoken at that time), the weather data for the previous day in Billings, Montana -- and needing to track his meds and his new exercise regimen is just more and glorious record-keeping.
Lists, however, are a dangerous trap for him. Such as his notes about what he should do on the trip. He gets to "No. 6 Stop making this list," before he gets in trouble. It's a small, funny thing. It ends at "20. 20."
On the road, staying at motels, he dreams of his father, and wonders about the meaning of the dreams. And he receives a text message from his friend Kyle, the boy: "Don't be all stupid when your here."
Among other reactions Edward has to that message: "Also, Kyle has some nerve calling me stupid when he doesn't know the difference between 'your' and 'you're.'"
A sign of Edward's growing maturity and ability to cope is that he decides to just turn off his iPhone till he gets to Donna and Kyle's home.
But when he gets there, the trouble with Kyle is indeed bad. Too much drama, and he is asked to leave, so Donna and Victor can try to deal with Kyle again.
So, Edward begins his trip home.
Which is disrupted when he finds that Kyle has stowed away in the back of the Cadillac.
Phone calls are made, and it is agreed that Kyle will accompany Edward to Cheyenne Wells, Colorado, then home to Wyoming, where Donna and Victor will retrieve him before Edward has to leave for Texas, for the holidays with his mother.
"I feel happiness and fear," says Edward. "I'm happy that I'm being allowed to help solve an adult problem; it's the kind of thing I'm not often trusted to do."
In Cheyenne Wells, Edward and Kyle rent a room at a motel where Edward had stayed when he was a child, with his father. There, he meets Sheila Renfro, who was two or three years old when he was there as a child. Now she is an adult and owner of the motel.
He offers to help her with a project.
"'I'm pretty handy with drywall. Do you need help?'
"'Are you offering or do you expect to be paid?'
"'I don't need to get paid. I'm fucking loaded.'
"'Don't curse around me. I would like your help, yes.'"
A lot is to come in this modest-sized (307 pages) novel, lots of comedy, drama and very touching moments. Edward will learn about Kyle's problems, and be a factor in helping him. Edward, who has never shared even a kiss, will learn something about relationships from Sheila Renfro. And Edward will learn a lot about his father, his mother and how he must make a way for himself in his own life. And he'll learn about what it's like to have people who care about him.
It is a very fine novel, and one I enjoyed very much. It makes me happy to know that Lancaster is out there, writing books.