The Bones Beneath My Skin by TJ Klune

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: March 11 to 15, 2019

I will sum up this book the way it was recommended to me: like an X-Files story on a road trip minus the FBI.

Didn’t know much about either the author or the book itself, but I was intrigued by that pitch and anything inspired by the X-Files was and will always be a point of interest for me.

So I went into this book not knowing much about it, which wasn’t that hard as the blurb barely touches on the actual plot, and that’s the best way to approach it. Go in unaware and let the story slowly reveal itself to you. It’s worth the experience. The characters are endearing and their journey, unforgettable.

This book has everything–well, almost everything. Big government secrets, fugitives on the run, botched cover-ups, road trips, first contact, crazy cults, a love story, and a comet shooting across the sky. None of which makes any sense until you start reading.

This book is so much more than the sum of its parts, so much more than what I initially thought it was. It’s a journey, it’s an experience, it’s a new way of looking at the world and it makes you want to believe.

The thing that will stay with me long after I finish reading is the humor. I didn’t expect such a somber, sobering novel to have so many laugh-out-loud moments embedded within the text.

It took awhile to suck me in, over 30%, but once I was in it, I found myself unable to put it down. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to finish in one sitting because you have to know how it ends, but at the same time, you don’t want it to end.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.

So a rough sketch of the premise is:

The year is 1995 and a comet is making its way across the sky, inspiring a bunch of conspiracy theories about extraterrestrials, Roswell, and what the government is keeping from the people.

Nate Cartwright, who just lost his dream job as a journalist for the Washington Post, gets a call from his estranged brother letting him know that their parents, who were also estranged from Nate, have died. His father has left him an old pickup truck and his mother, a cabin in the woods of Oregon.

So Nate, adrift and grieving and angry, leaves his life in DC behind and heads for the cabin in the woods with the intention of taking some time off to gather his thoughts and figure out his next career move. Once there, though, he finds two squatters in the cabin. Alex, a gruff ex-military guy with a huge chip on his shoulder, and with him, Art, a little girl about ten years old and very precocious but not so as to be annoying.

It’s a weird situation and a surreal experience, so weird and surreal that Nate couldn’t help but get pulled into it. He lets them stay in the cabin and slowly become entangled in their lives. Once trouble, in the form of secret government agents, catches up to them, they all go on the run. The journey takes them from the Pacific Northwest all the way to the East Coast; it’s quite delightful, given the circumstances.

On this cross-country road trip, Nate finds out who and what Art really is. Then, he learns of Alex’s connection to her, and Nate’s mind gets sufficiently blown by all these back-to-back revelations. Again, it’s really funny.

“Don’t drive away,” Art said, eyes wide as she stared at Nate. “If you do, there is nowhere you can run where I couldn’t find you.”

Nate gaped at her.

“Knock it off,” Alex said, cuffing the back of her head.

“I was just kidding!”

“Does it he look like he knows that?”

“It’s not my fault Nate’s mind is being expanded in ways he never expected.”

[…]

“What’s that look on your face?” Art asked. “Is that what sheer terror looks like? I mean, yesterday you looked scared because of the guns and the helicopters, but this certainly isn’t that. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone look so white before.”

In the course of the road trip, Nate and Alex also grow closer, like two lost souls recognizing in each other a familiar sense of loneliness. It’s very sweet watching these two get to know each other, and I’m glad they got their happily ever after.

“Does that mean you like me?” Nate wondered aloud, as if Alex wasn’t capable of reaching over and strangling him with one hand. “Because I think that means you like me. At least a little bit.”

“Absolutely not,” Alex retorted. “I don’t like anything about you.”

“Well, that’s certainly not true. You seemed to like how I look in the morning when i drink coffee. Saw that image a couple of times.”

My only quibble with this story is Nate’s reluctance to get on board with the situation he’s found himself in. It takes too long for him to accept the reality that there are [*mumbling spoilers*] out there. I mean, he’s a journalist in DC before this road trip, so he should have been used to uncovering outlandish stories and been quicker on the uptake. But at least he got in the end.

“You make yourselves a home out of nothing. Out of a place where one should not exist. You carried each other until your knees gave out and you stumbled. It’s always impossible to understand. None of us could get that. not until they felt a heart beating in a chest like I have. Not until I felt the bones beneath my skin. We’re not alike. Not really. We’re separated by time and space. And yet, somehow, we’re all made of dust and stars. I think we’d forgotten that. And I don’t know if you ever knew that to begin with. How can you be alone when we’re all the same?”

[…]

And strangely, somehow [Nate] was okay with it. He was okay with all of it. He’d been lonely. He’d been sad. But he’s found a purpose. He’s found a reason. Two, in fact. If he died right here, right now, there was a very real possibility that he’d done something good. That his life had mattered. That he’d loved and been loved in return.

[…]

[Nate] thought they were getting close to an ending, one the precipice of a new beginning. It didn’t matter. Home didn’t always have to be a place. Home could be a person too.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the way in which it took me on a transformative journey along with the characters from start to finish. Like the them, I actually felt like I became a different person by the end of the book.

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