“The kiss is music when notes disappear. No beginning or ending or wondering or stopping. The kiss is its own thing, and the only thing. His neck and shoulders relax and he and Dakota pour into one another until everything is humming. He is breathing for the first time in eighteen years and thinking:
This can happen. This is possible."
I was so so pleasantly surprised by this book. WILDMAN by J.C. Geiger is an accidental coming of age story, sitting on the razor edge of character growth with this tension that makes it feel like you're reading a hundred action scenes at once. On the surface the plot seems pretty average; teen boy's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, teen boy is duly distressed because he's missing out on a stellar party to end all parties where he was going to have a bedroom all to himself and his gorgeous girlfriend. In a perfect world, or perhaps an imperfect one, Lance our main character would have gotten his car fixed in a night and then drifted back to Bend to continue a life path that he's never felt fully connected too.
But in Baring, Washington Lance finds his bearing (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) through a series of out of character adventures with other interesting personalities. Really it starts the second he starts interacting with other people, because he's a boy whose life has been wrapped around pleasing the expectation of those around him; perfect student, perfect trumpet player, going to be a bank teller because everyone responsible knows you can't make a living off of music. In this small town Lance is suddenly awash with a sense of possibility because no one here knows him, which means he can reinvent himself. Suddenly he's hungry for that, for reinvention and rebellion; it's like he's been subconsciously building himself an internal chrysalis all his life and he was just waiting for the exact right scenario for that much needed metamorphosis. Lance + Baring = SOMETHING MORE.
It's so cool to witness, especially through the beautifully written narrative. The author has a way of writing that isn't too flowery and perfectly captures the thoughts of a teenage boy, but hits you right in the feels unexpectedly. The other characters in this book challenge Lance, they unknowingly or perhaps knowingly in some cases support the wildness in his spirit and help him free himself. They are all wild too in one way or another, wildly lost or wildly seeking. One of the best lines in the book is a thought about how odd it is when it feels like strangers understand you better than yourself. Dakota is the person Lance connects with the most in this story, and they have the best sort of affect upon each other. What is meant to be just one night turns into two, turns into three, turns into this itching knowledge that Lance doesn't want to go back home to Bend to be a bank teller.
This book is driven by intriguing characters and like I said before, absolutely gorgeous writing. The internal tension Lance feels is palpable, in the way his restless legs start to jackhammer when he's feeling trapped or worked up, in the way he sees Dakota and both envies and admires her free spirit. It's in the way that given the opportunity he absolutely explodes with this need for adventure and challenge, how the only thing he really takes with him from Bend is his love of his trumpet. And when Wildman Lance from Baring, Washington is forced to collide with Bend, Oregon's Lancelot . . . well I can tell you that it's one of my favorite parts of the entire book because every singe somewhat normal scene suddenly feels like it's exploding with horror movie level anxiety.
Is this one of those stories where the character has an existential awakening and then sadly bottles it up and returns to their scheduled life? Or does Lance chance this new feeling as far as it will take him and claim this new and wild sense of self? I won't answer that, you'll have to pick up Wildman by J.C. Geiger for yourself.