Sequels are interesting animals. They need to be aware enough to borrow from their predecessors and different enough to stand alone, yet some authors seem to lose track of the voice–the most essential ingredient in transferring the reader from one book to the next. Not so with LA Fields, who brings back troubled Marley and his equally troubled boyfriend Jesse in Dysfunction, her sequel to Maladaptation and doesn’t miss a beat with either the voice or the characters.
Having escaped from Loweville, Colorado where they were both exiled, eighteen-year-old Jesse and sixteen-year-old Marley decide to go to Marley’s home town in Florida. They are taken in by Kenny, an auto mechanic who lets them live at an apartment in the garage, and his wife Marianne. Jesse takes a job with Kenny, and Marley finds employment at a bookstore. The temptation to see his family is too great for Marley to resist, and he eventually finds himself again entwined with his abusive father, his distant mother and his sisters. After yet another familial battle, his sister Lindsay leaves. Marianne, the eternal mother, insists Lindsay and Marley move back home. When they do, the titular dysfunction really starts to show, leading to ugly decisions and bad choices for everyone.
As with Maladaptation, these characters–especially Jesse and Marley–have an astonishing verisimilitude. This is definitely Fields’s world, and she makes the most of her observations, capturing the broader picture of how these boys feel as well as their angst-ridden nuances. Their relationship is quirky and maybe even a little abusive, but she spares the reader no part of it. Still, at the core, you know Jesse really loves Marley. As much as he can, at least.
But Fields has equal facility with adults. Her portrayal of Marley’s abusive father, Jacob, is nearly as deft as those of the boys. She successfully points the way to the pressures and internal conflicts that fuel Jacob’s rage. His mother is less interesting, but she holds the house together as best she can. Every pistol needs a holster as well as a target. Although not comic relief, garage owner Kenny is a pleasantly welcome diversion from everyone else’s drama. The scenes Kenny commands really provide a respite and a place to breathe. Not so his wife, however, whose meddling precipitates some very real consequences.
Due to the age of the main characters, Dysfunction will probably find a home on the YA shelves, which is a disservice to the book in a way. Fields’s adults are every bit as complex and interesting as Jesse and Marley, which is something you rarely see in that genre. It’s a wonderful, deeply moving novel for any age, and I fervently hope it’s successful enough to warrant a third book in what Fields calls the “Disorder series.”
And don’t forget to catch us on Thursday of this week when I will be posting an interview with LA Fields about not only the Disorder series, but her marvelous Sherlock Holmes pastiche, My Dear Watson.
© 2013 Jerry L. Wheeler