Everlasting Lane Can Be a Harsh Place, Full of Beasts, Both Human and Animal
Everlasting Lane is an excellent reminder of how smart and intuitive children can be and how difficult childhood really is.
Everlasting LanePublisher: Melville House
Length: 368 pages
Author: Andrew Lovett
Publication date: 2015-01
After spending time with Andrew Lovett’s Everlasting Lane, I’m reminded of Roger Ebert’s lovely review of Williy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This review opens: “Kids are not stupid. They are among the sharpest, cleverest, most eagle-eyed creatures on God's Earth, and very little escapes their notice.”
Everlasting Lane is an excellent reminder of how smart and intuitive children can be.
To be truthful, I was a little surprised when I opened Everlasting Lane and read the blurb from Booklist: “With nods to such children’s classics as Alice in Wonderland, Lovett’s first novel... contemplates the often very fine line between imagination and reality.” For whatever reason, I wasn’t expecting Everlasting Lane to be linked to children’s classics. Perhaps it’s because children’s “classics” have changed so much since the 19th century (actually they’ve changed a lot since the 20th century). There isn’t a single wizard or vampire to be found on Everlasting Lane. The story takes place in the past instead of a dystopian future. And it most certainly, as the Library Journal quote featured on the front cover notes, is “sophisticated and evocative”.
With its references to all things “curiouser and curiouser” a comparison between Everlasting Lane and Alice in Wonderland is inevitable (and makes sense). But I think of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine -- a book that, much like Everlasting Lane, is a coming of age story centered on those last moments of childhood innocence. Both are also books about children that will be appreciated most by adults.
Everlasting Lane begins when Peter and his mother move to Amberly, a small village in the English countryside. Peter’s first words to us set the tone for the entire book “I was nine when my father died. Or ten. I don’t remember.” Ten-year-old Peter is our narrator and his memory, along with the sometimes thin line between real and imaginary -- the gray space where we aren’t sure if our memories are accurate or if our minds are playing tricks on us -- is at the center of this very compelling tale.
In Amberly, Peter befriends two other children and the three become almost a trio of outcasts. Anna-Marie, the only girl in the group, is sharp, occasionally mean, but still primarily loveable, in part because she despises the use of the word literally and regularly chastises Peter for using it. She is also good with the sly insults: “'Do you have any idea, Peter, how old these trees are? Hundreds of years. Thousands, for all I know. Anything will develop a personality if it lives long enough…’ She paused a moment to adjust her sock. ‘Even you.’”
Peter and Anna-Marie, along with the third musketeer Tommie, survive not only each other and their peers but some bullying teachers, as well. There's the school’s headmistress Mrs. Carpenter, who, among other things, tries to intimidate Peter into believing in God. And then there’s Mr. Gale, Peter’s teacher who spices up his classrooms with language like piss-sticks and gives each child an unflattering and unwelcome nickname. Peter’s last name is Lambert and Mr. Gale quickly christens him Lambchop. Peter, in his own words, is not pleased.
Names are important on Everlasting Lane, but secrets are more important. One of the major secrets in Everlasting Lane is what is behind a door, a door that is locked and hidden behind a curtain. A stolen key quickly solves this mystery, but after the children see “in a frame, a name embroidered Alice” on one of the walls in this secret room, they have an even bigger mystery to solve: Who is Alice?
Still, mysteries have to be approached cautiously. Peter may not be as quick as Anna-Marie, but he still knows that “maybe the worst thing we could do was solve a mystery, because Alice was a mystery and a mystery was just another word for secret and a secret was just another word for the truth and when we solved it, when it wasn’t a mystery any more, all we’d have left was the truth. Or maybe nothing.”
Memories, reality, magic, mysteries, truth, secrets, and dreams not only all blend and connect but also push at each other. At times, Amberly and Everlasting Lane can be a harsh world, full of beasts of both the human and animal variety. Even Anna-Marie’s toughness is tested when one of the teachers tells her she should aspire no higher than a career as a shop clerk or waitress, particularly now that cash registers are primarily automated.
Along with the ugliness is a beautiful kind of magic, which seems just as real as the bullies and tears: “Aren’t you alive? How magical is that? Haven’t you ever seen a… a butterfly? Haven’t you seen a sunrise or a sunset? Peter, magic is all around you all the time, every day. Not just you but everybody. And, if you don’t think it’s magic, well, maybe you’re setting your sights too high.”
The question is, Will Lovell end the book with beasts and ugliness or butterflies and beauty? Some mysteries in the book may be easy to solve, but this question won’t be answered until the very end.