The first thing you experience when reading Dalton’s debut is its prose.
The first few chapters seem surreal. A brother writes sentences in thin air. Your end is a dead blue wren. Other images are painted that while poetic, don’t make sense.
Soon, it finds reality, and a stark one at that. Eli is a boy with a junkie mum and a stepdad who deals heroin. It takes Eli a long time to realise that this is not a normal life for a boy, but while this sounds bleak, the feel of this novel is not.
That’s not to say there aren’t dark twists and turns, one of which returns Eli and his brother to their dad where another dream-like mystery has to be unravelled by the reader. There’s joy in this first-person narrative as Eli makes sense of his world. His heart is in the right place. Now he has to make all the other pieces fit.
I put this book down several times.
Not because I got bored. We were in the middle of renovations and at one stage I misplaced it for two weeks. And many chapters are self-contained so while Eli and his take on life charm you, it’s the last eighth of the book where the action heats up and the book doesn’t leave your hands. Elements of the story come together, and this young man’s boyhood goal is realised.
Eli may not literally swallow the universe, for its a huge universe to decipher. But he finally grasps it, making it easier to digest the cards he’s been dealt.