Author: Gregory Galloway
Publisher: Dutton Books (Penguin Group)
Date Published: February 21, 2013
Number of Pages: 314
Adam Strand is your average teenager – bored, malcontent with everything, only his boredom can seemingly never be overcome. To alleviate this intense sense of ennui Adam kills himself, he kills himself 39 times to be exact. Most often he jumps, but no matter the method he just can’t seem to stay dead. Frustrated, determined and totally unconcerned for the feelings of those around him Adam’s story remains the same until he’s forced to face the mortality of someone else.
The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand is the second YA novel written by Gregory Galloway (though his first As Simple as Snow was originally intended for an adult audience) both the book and the author would probably never have come to my attention had it not been for a great review posted by The AV Club.
39 Deaths is an interesting piece in the YA canon – as morbid as it is full of dark humour it deals with a difficult and relatively taboo subject with a bluntness that is almost unheard of. This is not the story of a suicidal teenager, this is an existential take on the disenfranchisement and ennui suffered by modern-day teenagers. Adam isn’t depressed, he’s bored, so bored that he would rather jump from bridges, swallow poison and do a slew of other things to facilitate his own death then continue on in a life he feels is pointless.
Adams proclivity towards self-annihilation strangely demonstrates just how much of your typical selfish, self-involved teenager he is. He gives little thought or consideration to how his actions affect those around him. It’s not until nearly the end of the book that he gives any real thought as to who it is that constantly finds him. Even when his friends confide how affected they were watching him jump from the back of a car Adam barely reflects on the damage he may have caused. His desperation to succeed, his uncontrollable urge and unwillingness to fight it are the perfect example of teenage self-indulgences.
Told out of sequence and interspersed with moments of everyday life – disappointment with friends, failed relationships, awkward familial relations, and littered with incredibly dry musings on everything from therapy to the high suicide rate of dentists (a fact brought about after being forced to sit and entertain the dentist father of a friend) 39 Deaths treats its readers with an understanding that Adam’s thoughts and feelings are his and his alone, they’re not a battle cry to do the same. The book never seeks to pontificate or lecture on the subject of suicide or depression. It is a fabulous example of existential literature.
Galloway’s major success is the duality of how bold and subtle his writing is – it’s a feat that only helps to make the books premise more striking because really Adam’s predilection to cause his own death can easily be transferred to any number of analogies for how callous teenagers can often be.
As the story progresses and his relationships change, as he gains more responsibility – particularly when tasked with the job of taking preteen Maddy to and from the hospital for numerous tests – Adam slowly begins to see the world in a different life, and though the pull to continue on as normal remains strong he begins to see reason in fighting the urge. He begins to mature and understand that only he can control the intensity of his weariness. In essence in living Adam begins to see the light.
Strange, profound, dark, funny and striking The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand is a bit of absurdist existentialism written to perfection. This book is a masterpiece in cleverness and originality that deals with one mans thoughts on suicide, death, mortality and “The Point, the bridge, and the emergence of the pestilence of Mormon flies and Troy Lidell” (the awesome title of chapter 7.) This book is one of those rare gems you somehow manage to stumble upon and once you read it you can’t imagine how life was before you found it.