In a striking opening chapter, Danny Lizar announces that today is his 21st birthday and he is about to kill himself. The rest of the novel attempts to explain this decision by tracing the main events of his brief life.
By revealing the end at the beginning, Higgerson is able to switch the focus away from “what happened?” and towards the more interesting “why did it happen?” It’s a strategy that I’ve seen work well in other books, for example Preeta Samarasan’s Evening is the Whole Day, and it works equally well in The Almost Lizard.
Both books delve a long way back into the past for their explanations, but whereas Samarasan splices backstory between present-day action, Higgerson does it chronologically, slowing things down early on. The book starts with the life stories of each of Danny’s parents and then a detailed account of his infancy and early childhood, so that it’s a third of the way through before the beginning of the real story: Danny’s growing obsession with TV soap operas.
It’s at this point that the novel really takes off, becoming a fascinating portrait of a boy who is slowly losing the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
What begins innocently, with the 11-year-old Danny imagining more interesting lives for the families he passes on his morning newspaper round, becomes more serious when he discovers that he can engineer drama in real life. Soon he is devising plots and ‘filming’ scenes all the time, giving Valentine’s Day chocolates to a girl his friend has a crush on, and then confronting his father with an accusation of infidelity at the Christmas dinner table.
As he gets older, the repercussions of his habit become more severe, but he can’t seem to stop. He sees himself not as a person but as a character in the show, his choices constrained by the need to create good television. The split in Danny’s psyche is subtly and carefully drawn, and his convincing descent towards the promised tragedy fully makes up for the slower opening sections.
The Almost Lizard is an imaginative study of a boy being consumed by his own obsession, provoking interesting questions about TV and pop culture.
Title: The Almost Lizard
Author: James Higgerson
Publisher: Legend Press
Pub date: February 2013
Page count: 464pp