Chuck Palahniuk’s influence has reached a lot of young authors these days and his influence is clearly felt while reading L.T. Vargus’s Casting Shadows Everywhere. I came across this author and novel via social media. After reading the blurb, it intrigued me and it looked like something I would enjoy, so I bought it, decided to give it a go. It’s another novel which crosses the lines of genre: part YA, part Literary, part Noir - throw in a little J.D. Salinger as well and you have a pretty good idea what’s in store here. While the Palahniuk influence is very apparent here, Casting Shadows Everywhere holds back from the hyper-transgressive elements of your typical Palahniuk novel. His influence here is more stylistic; that and those amusing little asides he often tosses in his story which pull together the ultimate theme.
Written in the form of a diary by a 15 year old high school student named Jake, we are treated to a slice of his life as the influence of his nihilistic cousin Nick works its way into his thinking. Jake is one of those kids who gets bullied often, sees the world with a very snarky, outsider perspective, is alienated from his peers and is at the point in his life where he is searching for meaning. Nick’s influence couldn’t come at a worse time. While Jake is searching for meaning, Nick is there to try to teach him that life doesn’t have any meaning at all; that everything is arbitrary; that there are no rules; and ultimately humanity just “does things”, without any particularly good reason why. But Jake is drawn to Nick’s seemingly “carefree” view of the world, not fully understanding the full scope of Nick’s nihilism. Nick - and his friends - are the type of people who sit around all day either jobless (or with menial low wage jobs), drink, do drugs and play video games. Nick’s hobby, so to speak, is breaking into other people’s homes and selling whatever loot he can get his hands on, justifying his actions via his nihilistic philosophy - and he’s going to try to take his young cousin under his wing, show him “the truth” about life and society. At first, Jake is conflicted as he goes along with Nick on his burglaries but over time he seems to lose his fear - and his sense of wrong doing - the more he is drawn in. Soon, however, he begins to look at his cousin with a more critical eye.
Meanwhile, Jake falls for the archetypical blonde haired, blue eyed, “popular girl” (who has an eating disorder) as well as dealing with the school’s king bully Troy; and as he writes in his journal, we are privy to his feelings of inadequacy, his alienation from his peers, his private thoughts on consumerism, fitting in, as well as the lessons he learns from his psychology classes - lessons that figure strongly into the mindset of the various characters in the story. Over time he feels himself changing - losing his sense of fear and becoming more inclined to follow his violent urges. It is at this precise turning point where he discovers something horrible about his cousin Nick which brings him face to face with his own conflicts and sense of life. Although there is a darker theme to this novel, it’s not so “dark” that there isn’t a bit of humor within. However, sometimes the humor comes at a price - that snarky, “alterna-dude” thing that often brings up very trivial matters for social commentary. Naturally, since the main protagonist is only 15 years old, this is exactly how a 15 year old boy like Jake would think, but sometimes I felt it was a little too much (and quite frankly, the novel would have been much more powerful with less of it, not to mention a much stronger ending had the very last chapter been removed). This is not a “serious” novel in the sense that there’s no rays of light among the darker themes and imagery but a little too much snark does distract from the more important themes explored here.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. Along with the Palahniuk and Salinger influences, one might want to also throw in a little darker S.E. Hinton as well - and fans of all three (or merely one of these authors) will find a lot to enjoy here. In the end, the greater theme of the novel trumps whatever minor criticisms I may have with it. Definitely worth a read.