You HAVE to read the reviews on this brilliant book!!!
Ben lives in fear of the hurt he has caused. He exists at a distance, hoping for the clarity of solitude and routine. Yet, even as he tries to hide himself from complexity and connection, Ben’s life becomes entangled with the lives of others. Through love and anger, and in fear that he might only be the worst of himself, Ben fumbles toward a reckoning.
Disquieting and darkly poetic, These Can't Be Choices explores the mind of a man living in the shadow of his own impossible crime. It lays bare the spare and upsetting world of its protagonist: unrelenting, hypnotic, and often profane.
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The boy had gym class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The boy knew it, and knew it was always the same. But he wouldn’t always remember. In seventh grade there were more things to remember, and thinking about it made everything feel endless and dangerous. When he was home everything about school seemed far away, and when he was getting ready in the morning he would be tired and wouldn’t think about what day it was. There were things he knew he had to remember to bring for every class, and he would try and try to remember. When he forgot something he needed, when he would have to sit in class and be the only one without a book, the feeling of it would burn in him and he thought he would never, never forget. But at night and in the morning while he was getting ready it all disappeared. The thought of it was gone, like it had never been there.
When the boy forgot his gym clothes he would have to play in his regular clothes. Everyone looked at him and he could feel them and see them and he didn’t know why he forgot but he usually did. He would ask to sit out but the coach wouldn’t let him. Sometimes he would even have to play in his boots.
At the beginning of the school year, while the weather was good and they could still go outside, they would play soccer, again and again. They would pick team captains from the best players, and they would try to act just like the coach while they picked one kid after another, and the boy was always one of the last ones they would pick. The boy didn’t want to be picked. The boy didn’t want to play, but he had to, and someone had to pick him.
He would always be the goalie. After they picked, all the other kids on his team would walk away and leave him standing closest to the goal, and then he would have to be the goalie.
When the ball was on the other side of the field, he could almost like it. It was nice to be outside, and from the field you could see houses that people lived in, and people doing whatever they wanted to do. Free to walk around and do whatever they wanted in the middle of the day. He would imagine what it would be like to walk up and down the main street on nice days, or stay inside if it was cold. To watch television, or go to the Double D for a hamburger for lunch whenever he wanted. He watched a fat woman come out of her house with her dog and walk away from town toward where the road got thin and rough and it was mostly woods on either side. She would walk up a hill into the woods with the dog, or along the side of the road. She could walk on a path up deep into the woods and hear nothing but the sound of the wind in the thick pine, and walk as far as she wanted. She could do whatever she wanted, and it made the boy imagine something that was almost like magic.
Once he had taken a bus ride in the middle of the day to another town to go to a different kind of school for part of the day. It was only him and a few other kids on a small bus, and he got to sit alone and look out the window while the other kids talked and talked and laughed. But they left him alone and he watched as the bus drove through one town after another, and there were always people out on the streets. Walking down the sidewalk.
The boy would make up stories about the people he saw. One after the other. The old woman pulling a grocery cart who’d cashed her check to buy food for her son. The man in the suit who would stare people right in the eye when they tried to rip him off and who would always be smarter than them and never back down. The boy would imagine himself, walking down the street. He would make a story for himself, and it could be any story he wanted.
After the ball went past him into the goal, the boy thought he remembered yelling, and the sound of running toward him. But it hadn’t meant anything at all. Not until the ball was in and everyone looked at him like he’d ruined everything. They called him names and one of the boys pushed him hard and he fell down inside the goal. On his hands and knees he could feel the softness of the grass. He could feel the moist earth. It had rained a few nights ago. It was cool and rich and he could feel the earth under his hands like a living thing. Digging his fingers into the grass as they walked away toward the middle of the field to start the game again, it felt like the flesh of the earth. Like holding together one great, long living thing. Digging his fingers into the feel of it as the other kids gathered at the middle of the field in a blurred mass, he imagined pulling away the grass and the earth. He imagined what there would be if he could pull away the skin of the earth.
There was no reason for him to be in the locker room after class. There were grass stains on his jeans from where he had fallen. He didn’t have any clothes to change into, and if his mother noticed the stains she would be angry, but maybe she wouldn’t notice. The boy didn’t want to talk to anyone. He stood in the far corner of the locker room away from everyone. He opened the door to one of the long lockers that was taller than him, and he stood behind the open door and he thought maybe they just wouldn’t bother with him.
They joked and laughed and pushed each other and he didn’t look at them but it was like they were all one thing. Laughing and happy and always thinking the same and acting the same and being the same and all of them doing and saying the right thing. All of them right and all of them okay and all of them happy. They didn’t mind being naked. They didn’t mind taking their shirts off and being in the shower. They would laugh. They would yell and push each other but it didn’t matter, because they were all okay. They were all the same, and they were all okay. Not different bodies. Not different flesh. Not different. But all one. One creature with only one thought. One long and convulsing form. One animal, like a monster.
He stood behind the door of the locker and he remembered what it felt like to imagine being free. Being away from this. Being free in the day to walk a dog, or go to the store, or not go anywhere or see anyone. The thought of it was in him like a faint and fading warmth, and he tried to hold it without killing it. Without snuffing it out entirely.
He could feel them standing there. Three of them. Four. Five. It didn’t matter. One of them meant all of them, eventually.
The closest one pushed the locker shut and the boy felt naked and wanted to be away. To be covered and hidden. “Nice job out there, goalie.” It was the closest one. Shirtless, with the others gathered around him. Eyes on him and twisted mouths and arms and bodies. “Yeah, retard. What’s your problem?” Another mouth. Another voice, but all the same. A hand reached out from the confused mass of them and it pushed the boy back against the wall. He might have fallen but he was huddled too far into the corner and he fell against the wall. He could feel the pocked concrete under years of heavy coats of paint.
He stood up, but the monster was all around him, now. He held his arms up to block punches to his face but other arms emerged to strike his torso and his stomach. There were too many arms. Too many sneering, laughing faces. It was too much. Too big.
He swept his arms from side to side. Quickly, frantically. Trying to push away the countless hands that punished him, hit him, grabbed him, pulled him. He swung his arms like swatting at a swarm of flies and he ducked his head and nothing was in control anymore. Nothing was his to decide, and his arms swung wildly back and forth and he sunk against the wall and slid down against it, crouching lower and lower into the corner. He could hear screaming. The monster screaming. Howling its anger and its hatred. Screaming because this time it would never stop. This time it would tear him apart.
The bell rang and suddenly it felt quiet. He opened his eyes. The other boys had backed away, but he was still flailing his arms. Still screaming. Like his arms and his lungs and his mouth had been taken. Like they belonged to someone else. He tried to stop. To bring his arms to his sides, to stop screaming. He was breathing hard. The sound of it in his throat was a desperate, heavy moan. He couldn’t stop the sound of it in his throat. He wrapped his arms tight around himself as if to keep everything about him from falling to pieces on the ground. He saw the other boys drifting apart. But they kept their eyes on him, like animals watching a coiled threat. The boy saw their hatred. Their disgust. It was pure, and it was clear, and it was honest. But there was something else. Something on their faces, or behind their eyes, or in the receding sinews and tethers of the one monster that had broken apart and now faded away. There was something else that drove them away. The boy couldn’t understand that it was fear.
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"In this beautifully written debut novel, a loner hides from the world, other people and his past until a chance relationship sends him spiraling toward a confrontation with inner demons and the outside world... Brilliant, frightening and skillfully written." - Kirkus Reviews: A Starred Review
Read the complete Kirkus review, HERE
"Sometimes lush and sometimes brutal, THESE CAN'T BE CHOICES is at times uncomfortably nihilistic, but it's also very well-written, and the quality of the prose makes it a good read, if not always an easy one." - IndieReader
Read the complete IndieReader review, HERE
Five Stars! - The Portland Review
Read the complete Portland review, HERE