Dig by A.S. King
The Text Publishing Co., 2019. ISBN: 9781925773521. 391p.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Themes: Bildungsroman/Family. The Shoveler moves to town with his drifter mother. He begins the familiar process of grappling with a new school, making friends and finding a part-time job. In order to deal with ongoing domestic violence, Loretta constructs a scripted fantasy world centring around her Flea Circus. Malcom spends weekends off-shore with his dying father as his anxiety mounts. CanIHelpYou is a drive-thru attendant and local drug dealer tortured by her mother's racism. Throughout the book, our delight in unearthing how the characters are entwined is palpable.
Dig begins as a play with a cast but quickly changes into a novel - a postmodern feast of cumulative scenes mostly written in the first person by alternating characters. Only The Freak, Jake and Bill, and Malcom's grandparents Marla and Gottfried, are chronicled by an all-seeing narrator. The Freak has the ability to astral travel anywhere, frequently to be of assistance to the other characters. Brothers, Jake and Bill have a strained relationship as do Marla and Gottfried. Jake and Gottfried never meet but are linked by a twisted subservience and loyalty towards their respective 'partners'.
The lack of nomenclature and ambiguity seems unsettling at first but as separate lives progress, we know they are converging and we are utterly fascinated. The amusing technique of not naming characters explicitly is reminiscent of Anna Burns' Milkman, which won the 2018 Man Booker, however King's chapters are tantalizingly brief scenes or flashes in a fast moving montage.
A shared history of the ancestral potato farm, is a sustained metaphor which connects all the estranged family members. Sebold's, The Lovely Bones, will come to mind as we approach the final scenes. Family patriarch, Gottfried, delivers one final epiphany of complacency and regret. We ponder how often do our children become our teachers? Dig represents the counter-intuitiveness of the best of the YA genre in being an ingeniously choreographed cautionary tale for all ages.