Grayson Donald, seventeen years old, has just hanged himself from a basketball hoop next to a playground in Centreville, North Virginia (NoVA). The question is, Why? In this incisive dissection of the author's hometown, James Boice scratches its shiny suburban surface to reveal a place formed from "a cloud that slid west and met with the humidity and spent buckshot cartridges and Civil War bones clad in blue and gray to create concrete and vinyl siding and front yards laid in chunks, child care centers and video rental places."
An exciting new voice in fiction, James Boice blends sharp social observations with dark humor and remarkable prose. In both passing glimpses and intimate interior monologues, we come to know Grayson's family, his fellow students, his neighbors, and many who knew him only slightly, if at all. A portrait of a town emerges that renders Grayson's suicide both devastating and inevitable. NoVA is a unique and fascinating depiction of the American suburb.
Boice's overlong second novel (after MVP) opens with a startling meditation on the dead body of a 17-year-old suicide, Grayson Donald, hanging from a basketball hoop in Centreville, Va. From there, the story branches out to portray Grayson's troubles and those of his community, focusing on the mostly affluent residents of the subdivision where he lived. Beginning with Grayson's alcoholic, porn-addicted father and ambitious, devoutly Catholic mother, the narrative plumbs the lives and minds of a variety of characters, including housewife Ellen Eubank, neurotically dependent on her daily bath; schoolteacher and Home Owners' Association member Mitzy Hurkle, obsessed with her neighbor's regulations-violating curbside basketball hoop; and party boy Trent Batchelor, unemployed and living with and leaching off his pushover parents. Despite the variety of their needs, the characters are uniformly self-absorbed, incapable of connecting with others and endowed with desperate, rapacious appetites; the sameness of their situations becomes tiresome. While Boice's commentary on suburban banality is nothing short of savage, it's also too predictable and thin, as if he can't get over his own contempt for his characters. By the end, Grayson's suicide seems nonsensical, but not for the reasons intended.