“Edward Adrift,” by Craig Lancaster. Amazon Publishing, Las Vegas, Nev. Paperback, 320 pages. $9.99 digital.
By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost
I must confess that I wasn’t too excited about picking up Craig Lancaster’s third novel, “Edward Adrift.” His first novel, “600 Hours of Edward,” was an unexpected delight, a humorous but poignant look into the mind of a most unusual character.
His second novel, “The Summer Son,” seemed to me a step back, one that replowed much of the same emotional ground with a plot that was at once too predictable and too farfetched, a deadly combination.
That novel was followed by an excellent collection of short fiction, “Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure.” So a return to the main character of his first novel seemed to me like another step backward.
But, dang it, Edward sucked me in again. He is, for those unfamiliar with the first novel, a middle-aged Billings man with Asperger’s syndrome who is socially inept and a creature of strict habits, including keeping a daily weather log and watching old TV episodes on a strict schedule.
The first novel pulled Edward out of his solitary life with a series of unexpected events, including friendly new neighbors and the death of his father. In this novel, Edward is further extracted from the careful shell he has constructed.
His old neighbors, it turns out, have moved to Idaho, and the boy, now in seventh grade, has been expelled from school. Edward had struck up an odd friendship with the boy, and he is called upon to see if can help get the boy through troubled times.
The call comes at a fortuitous time. Edward is, as the title suggests, adrift. He has lost his job at The Billings Gazette. He has a new therapist. His friends have moved away.
Although his inheritance from his father has left him wealthy, his constricted lifestyle leaves him with little use for money.
His Idaho visit turns into a much longer trip, the result of a desire to revisit the town in Colorado where his father keeps appearing in his dreams. Along the way, Edward achieves further measures of human empathy, greater independence from his controlling mother and even the stirrings of romance.
This is all high ground for such a limited hero, and both the character and author put themselves at considerable risk. A slow journey to human development involves danger at every step, of excess sentimentality, of strained credibility, of false redemption.
Mr. Lancaster avoids each of these traps, handling Edward’s growing independence with skill and humor. While some of the character’s quirks can annoy even the most loyal reader, it’s difficult to avoid being pulled in by Edward’s candor, his intelligence and even his weaknesses.
Mr. Lancaster’s years as a newspaper copy editor also show through. Although the copy I read was an uncorrected proof, I found scarcely even a single typo, certainly something one cannot take for granted in today’s wide-open publishing world.
Mr. Lancaster has triumphed again. With remarkable speed, he has made himself into one of Montana’s most important writers.