The Almost Lizard by James Higgerson

The Almost Lizard by James HiggersonJames Higgerson’s debut novel follows a teenage boy whose habit of imagining himself in television soap operas develops from harmless fantasy into a cause for suicide.

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.

Watch my YouTube interview with author James Higgerson (and his cat) here.

Title: The Almost Lizard
Author: James Higgerson
Publisher: Legend Press
Pub date: February 2013
ISBN: 9781908248282
Page count: 464pp

More reviews: Amazon, Newbooks MagazineAnnabel’s House of BooksWorkshy Fop

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There are 5 comments

  1. I would say that in the last forty years or so the media has created an environment where it can become so easy to get lost in fantasy. This story sounds both interesting and believable. I know a few folks who were almost as obsessed as the character in this book over television shows and movies. I guess we have all heard similar stories concerning online video games.

    1. Hi Brian

      Yes, it’s certainly easy to get lost in fantasy. In this book it’s really well tied in with character – we see the reasons why he needs to create this drama and attention in his life. The disconnect between real life and fantasy life can be hard to deal with. You’re right about video games too!

  2. Nice review, Andrew. This looks like an interesting book. I think those of us who watch TV series regularly, will find this book quite fascinating. Though TV series fans discuss the fates of characters and what is going to happen in the next episode, I think most will probably know how to keep TV separate from their lives. I also feel that in some way delving deeply into the story of a TV series is not very different from living in alternate worlds created by films and novels. When I delve into ‘Middlemarch’ and start worrying about Dorothea’s fate (which I did), I don’t see that being much different from how I would react to the fate of a character in a TV series. However, I think it is easier to get addicted to a TV series in an obsessive way. It is sad that the main character in this story decides to die. The start of the novel is quite interesting – I think that kind of start will hook a reader in. I haven’t read that book by Preeta Samarasan. I will look for it in the library here. Thanks for this wonderful review.

    1. Hi Vishy

      You’re right that most people know how to keep it separate. In this book there are specific reasons why the character develops his obsession. It’s kind of a coping mechanism, a fantasy world of his own creation. He’s not really obsessed with a particular show on TV, only with the world he’s created in his head. I remember I used to do that sort of thing as a child, to escape from the real world for a while. In Danny’s case it just gets out of hand, and it’s really well described and quite believable.

      Yes, do check out the Preeta Saramasan book – I think you’d really enjoy it. I also interviewed her on this site and she said some interesting things – it’s here if you want to listen, either before or after reading 🙂

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