In the Midst Of
C.M. Barons
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In the Midst Of
C.M. Barons
New Age World Publishing
274 pages
April 2008
rated 2 of 5 possible stars

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In the Midst Of is one of the most difficult reads I've had in awhile. Set in the 70s, much of the book feels like perhaps it is an inside joke that you will only understand if you lived the party life of that decade. The story seems to bounce from one party or bar to the next, all with the character of Hollis as the center of attention. To those of us who did not live that life, the tale is tedious and, very often, pointless.

Hollis himself is someone who few people would get along with - unfeeling and difficult to understand, arrogant and sure that his position is the only one that exists. The story is told from the perspective of perhaps the only person Hollis is close to: Brian, who seems unwilling to see any of Hollis' faults and will defend him to the end. Perhaps a trait we'd all like in a friend, but hopefully from a less brainwashed perspective.

To the reader, Hollis is borderline aggressive almost all of the time, yet you can see that it's likely he suffers from high-functioning autism or maybe some kind of mental illness. Seeing this in the character makes the reader sympathetic to him, but never once did I feel that I liked Hollis. At the most, it makes you regret that the study of mental illness wasn't as strong then as it is now. Hollis never feels like anything more than a self-interested jerk - the kind of person you meet and immediately avoid. At the same time, numerous characters throughout the book are drawn to him, as though he has some magnetism that I never felt while reading about him.

Hollis is a very intelligent person, and proud of it. But you never know if what he's telling you is the truth or something he has made up to satisfy his own mind. I have known some people who are similar to Hollis, and the sad thing is that sometimes people don't seem to understand that life isn't about being smarter than everyone else; it's about adapting to people, making a community, and identifying with one another. Unfortunately, some people weren't made to fit that mold, and those people also unfortunately think there's something wrong with everyone else. The book identifies Hollis as an outsider, which he absolutely is, but he doesn't seem to realize that being an outsider isn't what we all want.

Following transitions in the story is difficult. There are numerous situations where one thing is going on and suddenly the scene has moved with no indication that things were changing. The reader has trouble following who is speaking during the dialog scenes; there isn't always a clear indication that a dialog is even taking place, as a conversation will take place in one paragraph. It takes rereading to be able to understand that there was in fact an exchange between two people. Eventually, the reader has to wonder if this is done on purpose to show that Hollis is smarter than the rest of us.

The writer has talent, and one hopes that future books will be less about showing everyone how smart a person can be and more about weaving a tale the reader can enjoy.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Crystal Jones, 2010

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