Thursday, June 5, 2008

The First Sandcastle

Early in M.E. Delgado's debut novel, The First Sandcastle, narrator Marlo Clemente and his gruff father build a sandcastle, which, the father promises, will never fall. Never, that is, as long as the tide stays out. And here lies the crux of the difficulties Marlo faces throughout his life. The universe his father envisions for Marlo is perfectly idealized and completely inviolable--as long as real life doesn't seep in. The problem, of course, is that real life does inevitably seep in, and Marlo so believes in the admittedly misogynistic world his father has created that he's not sure how to reconcile it with the world that his senses and better judgment tell him is real.

At issue through much of the novel is Marlo's attitude toward women. According to his father, women are treacherous and deceitful, and nothing else. Even Marlo's mother, says the father, is completely untrustworthy. Initially, Marlo's experiences bear the father's theories out as a beautiful girl gets the better of his best friend. When Marlo himself falls in love, however, he begins to question his father's wisdom, especially upon realizing that the girl's mother has a similar theory with regard to men. For Marlo, then, growing up is a matter of recognizing that the monolithic theories we tend to build to explain the world have a tendency to fall apart under scrutiny--just like the sandcastles he loves to build must always fall to the tide.

Overall, The First Sandcastle works wonderfully as a coming of age novel. I wouldn't quite call it young-adult literature, but elements of the story will certainly resonate with youthful readers who are themselves attempting to navigate the choppy waters of romance for the first time. Indeed, Delgado's prose mimics the earnest tone of adolescence so faithfully that it's easy to forget that the author is an adult. This isn't, of course, to say that Delgado writes in a childish fashion, but that he beautifully captures that moment just before adulthood when we all believe that we have the world figured out, that all matters of ethics and morality fall neatly into simple categories. Just as abandoning this black and white world view to explore the moral ambiguities of adulthood is ultimately what growing up is all about, so too is The First Sandcastle.

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