Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Independent book review: My Temporary Life

My Temporary Life
Martin Crosbie, 2012

This was so good.

The traditional publishing model is broken indeed if a string of publishers rejected Martin Crosbie’s excellent first novel. I can’t imagine what made them turn it down. The plot is engaging from the beginning, filled with grabbers like high-school bullying and drunkenness and a strong statement about child abuse.

It’s traditional publishers’ loss, and Crosbie’s gain. He published the book himself and took it to number one on Amazon’s paid list for a whole day last spring.


My Temporary Life begins with the narrator, Malcolm Wilson, at age 13 in Kilmarnock, Scotland. He and his best friend, Gerald, spend their days trying to avoid being picked on by the tough kids and the teachers, while somehow being noticed by girls. Crosbie skillfully reveals Malcolm’s back-story in dialogue: his mother came from Canada, met his father, Alex, in Scotland, and about nine months later Malcolm came along. After a few years, Malcolm’s mother moved back to her home town, Vancouver. Malcolm stays with his father, a part-time construction worker, through the school year, and visits his mother and her temporary boyfriend for the summers. Malcolm is left feeling that everything is temporary: he’s only with his mother or his father temporarily. Even when he wishes that his life could be the way it used to be, when his family was united, he realizes that was a temporary situation, as well.

When Malcolm is 13, after a particularly humiliating episode of bullying, Malcolm’s father teaches him how to fight. The next fall, he begins his teen-age growth spurt and discovers his ability at track running. After that, the bullying of Malcom stops—but not so for his friend, Gerald. Nicknamed “Hardly” after he’s found drunk in school, Gerald is not only bullied by his classmates, he’s beaten regularly by both parents.

Malcolm moves to Canada after getting a scholarship to attend a private high school on Vancouver Island. Alex Wilson takes Gerald in to save him from his abusive life, until Gerald is old enough at 15 to join the Army.

At that point, the book jumps ahead about 20 years. Malcolm is now in his 30s, successful in his career as an accountant and a failure in romance. He meets Heather, a 20-something woman with the apparent confidence to dye her hair green and wear high boots even when they’re not in fashion or even in keeping with the weather (it’s set in Vancouver, where you need galoshes more than high boots). Heather draws Malcolm into her attempt to reunite with her 10-year-old daughter.


Crosbie’s style is exactly what publishers say they’re looking for: clear and so smooth you don’t even notice it. Without calling attention to his command of language, Crosbie brings you into Malcolm’s world and his heart.

His dialogue is nearly flawless. I can hear Alex’s brogue and Malcolm’s lilt.
His characterization is just as good. I can believe in characters like George and Rosie, and even Malcolm’s mother, because I feel like I’ve met people just like them before.
The only part that’s hard to believe is the way Malcolm won the scholarship. The whole episode seems too convenient. On the other hand, Crosbie, the author, was born in Scotland and moved to Canada when he was young, so maybe the episode is autobiographical. Still, it was the one weakness in the book.

Bottom line

This is an excellent novel, and I’m looking forward to Crosbie’s next book — which he promises for the end of the year!

I can’t wait.

Find it on Amazon.
And visit Martin's blog.

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