A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger
Review by Lauren
Due Out: Tomorrow, Tuesday 18th
copy for review, but all opinions are my own
Official Summary: Mike Welles had everything under control. But that was before. Now things are rough at home, and they’re getting confusing at school. He’s losing his sense of direction, and he feels like he’s a mess.
Then there’s a voice in his head. A friend, who’s trying to help him get control again. More than that—the voice can guide him to become faster and stronger than he was before, to rid his life of everything that’s holding him back. To figure out who he is again. If only Mike will listen.
Review: I was fascinated by the summary for A Trick of the Light because you don't get many novels (for any age level) that touch on boys with eating disorders. Most people tend to focus on girls, as they are the most affected. That doesn't mean boys are exempt though and I applaud Metzger for realistically portraying anorexia in teen Mike Welles.
Something I loved about the novel was the point of view. The eating disorder has a voice and they are the one who tells the story. It's not a stretch to think of anorexia or bulimia having a voice. It's all the negative thoughts you have about yourself and your body. This voice tells you to eat less, puke up what you did eat, and keep working out until your body is perfect. Of course, by that point, you're so sick, it's hard to reach a healthy weight and viewpoint again.
In A Trick of the Light, Mike is dealing with parents who can't seem to keep their own lives together. While they are too busy with their troubles to notice him, he makes a friend that pushes his own already declining behavior to the edge. He now has a guide to help him eat less and keep it hidden, as well as the voice in his head that gives him non-stop motivation to do what needs to be done.
It's a scary thought to imagine having a voice in your head that is constantly putting you down, or raising you up with unhealthy goals of being perfect. Reading the book in the voices' point of view gives you a more personal account of what this eating disorder is doing to Mike. It was definitely a smart move on Metzger's part to allow this disease to take the reigns in the story, just as it does on a daily basis for those personally battling an eating disorder.
Interview with Lois Metzger
Question #1: The idea of “a trick of the light” appears a few times in the novel; how do you feel the title encompasses the overall novel?
For a long time the title of this book was “Stop Motion,” based on Mike’s interest in stop-motion animation, and his growing suspicion that he’s caught (stopped) in something he can’t break free of. As I revised the book, another theme became more important—that of a lie. In the first example of the phrase “a trick of the light,” Mike’s grandmother calls in a panic, saying there’s a mouse in her living room. Mike and his mom rush to see her, and can’t find a mouse anywhere. The grandmother, not surprised, says, “Maybe there was no mouse… It must have been a trick of the light.” Mike realizes his grandmother was lying and tricked them into visiting her.
Later, when Mike goes to see his friend Amber in an eating-disorder wing of a hospital, he sees another patient there, a boy. Mike gets completely freaked out by the fact that a boy could wind up in an eating-disorder facility; after all, even a doctor told him, “It’s a girl’s disease.” Mike manages to convince himself that he’s not seeing a boy, that it’s only a girl who looks like a boy, that it’s “a trick of the light.” Mike is now lying to himself and can’t even see that he is doing so. The whole idea of a lie, and lying to yourself (tricking yourself, basically), permeates the book and greatly influenced the ending. It became the better title.
Question #2: What drew me to your novel in the first place was that you focused on a teenage male dealing with an eating disorder. How did this idea come to you, and what do you hope readers take away from it?
Nearly ten years ago (that long!) I saw an article in the New York Daily News, called “Not For Girls Only.” It was about a boy who, at age 13, became anorexic and very nearly died. I was stunned. I had no idea boys could get eating disorders (I, too, thought it was only a “girl’s disease”). The subject fascinated me; I contacted the writer of the article and she, in turn, put me in touch with the boy and his family. From them, I got the names of a doctor at Stanford University, who then gave me the names of families to interview in New York City, where I live.
As to what readers may take away from this? I guess it’s that anyone, basically, is vulnerable to an eating disorder; it crosses all income levels, ethnic groups, and ages (children as young as seven have been diagnosed). Mostly I just try to tell a good story and get readers thinking about, for example, ways they, or people they know, might be lying to themselves and what they can do about it.
Question #3: You must have done a lot of research for this novel. What is something you came across that you found interesting, whether it’s something you used for the novel or not?
I will share something I didn’t use because it’s not something the narrator would ever say. The death rate for eating disorders is the highest of any psychological disorder—between five and 20 percent. Mike’s therapist at the hospital talks about this to Mike directly and repeatedly; Mike doesn’t hear her, except on a kind of subliminal level; the narrator only refers to these conversations dismissively as “obscene talk of death and dying.”
The three signs of anorexia are not spelled out in the book: Anorexics feel they can only be happy if they are thin; an anorexic will keep dieting way beyond what is considered a healthy weight; and anorexics have specific food rituals. In a scene that was later cut, Mike’s therapist questions him about his food rituals. Mike doesn’t answer her, but of course he has a couple (putting food on his plate in the shape of a clock face, and eating only five bites per meal). The narrator remarks that these aren’t “rituals” but “organizational tools, like a file cabinet,” and says, “You wouldn’t call somebody with a file cabinet a slave to rituals, would you?”
Question #4: One of the most intriguing aspects of A Trick of the Light is the narrator. Why did you decide to take this direction, and was it an idea you had from the beginning or came up with as you wrote?
Mike always had a voice in his head, but this voice was not initially the narrator. Mike was the first narrator, with the book told in first person (“I”). But it didn’t feel right, Mike telling his own story that way. Too many complicated things were happening to him, things he was barely aware of, so it seemed strange for him to comment on this. I tried telling the book in third person (“He”) but I didn’t like that, either; it felt distant. Various people became narrators, even if only for a chapter or two—Amber, Mike’s friend Tamio, Mike’s mom. Finally the voice in Mike’s head, which had been getting stronger with every revision, took the reins. This felt, oddly, very natural. The voice was comfortable telling the story—it liked control. The voice had its own personality that I found useful for fiction; it was emotional, moody, manipulative, egocentric, pushy, oversensitive, and never, but never, admitted it was wrong, even when the evidence was overwhelming. The voice opened a whole new way for me to see Mike and tell his story.