by Meg Howrey; Pantheon, 2011; 289 pages, $24.95.
It can’t be easy for anyone to conceive a new version of the novel of initiation, especially in America where the ghosts of Huckleberry Finn and Holden Caulfield hover over any such attempt. With Blind Sight being a first novel, it is therefore especially heartening to affirm that Luke Prescott, the book’s 17-year-old voice, is as magnetic as his literary forbears.
Like Huck, Luke is “caught between.” Luke’s single mother Sara has lived her life embracing the tenets of Eastern philosophy. In the same house, Luke’s grandmother Nana, Sara’s mother, expects Luke to accompany her every Sunday to her New England Puritan church. And his step-sisters are not quite as helpful as they think they are. Like Huck, Luke has been without acceptable male guidance during his formative years: He is the first male child in Sara’s family for generations.
But, like Huck, Luke is given a chance to look at the world. It’s not a long journey on the Mississippi River; it’s more a Holden Caulfield trek through city life. Out of the blue, Luke receives a call from his father, who last saw his son as an infant. Luke is invited to step away from bohemian life in Delaware to step into the fast life of Hollywood. For Luke’s father is Mark Franco, famous star of a hit television series, and he wants to get to know his son.
So for 10 weeks Luke joins his father in Los Angeles in a world of filmmaking, movie premieres, smart parties and rampant acquisitiveness. It is a world in which, as Mark warns Luke, “everybody uses everybody.”
How easy it would have been for Meg Howrey to have conceived a novel in which a wide-eyed innocent is corrupted by an avaricious world, but she’s too much in control of Luke to turn him into a cliché. Her Luke has done a lot of reading in the new fields of brain science and, like Huck and Holden, is searching for proofs, believing that often we lose our “consciousness of sight. This phenomenon has been observed, and documented, and is called blind sight.”
Blind Sight is at the heart of Luke’s summer journey, a journey that isn’t quite the idyll he expects. He learns that in our world there are surfaces to be penetrated, whether those surfaces be parents who aren’t quite as we imagine them or friends, the intimate ones especially, who urge us to keep our eyes closed.
Luke may argue that “maybe no one knows anyone at all,” but he still searches. He still believes that evidence can be found. Luke must believe that he can still “see,” and his summer with his father solidifies that notion.
It is a summer during which Luke learns the difference between hope and truth. That summer is deftly rendered by the sure touch of Meg Howrey, who moves nimbly between the first-person “free writes” of Luke’s sample college entrance essays and the third-person narratives in present tense that give an immediacy to Luke’s actual adventures. Blind Sight is Howrey’s poignant account of a watershed summer for an engaging young man. It is a summer during which Luke Prescott comes of age, comes to understand that, as the marvel known as blind sight intimates, “we don’t always know what we know.”
Steven Whitton is a professor of English at Jacksonville State University.