Reading Ewan Morrison’s latest book, How To Survive Everything, made me distinctly uncomfortable from the start.
The feckless Ed and the controlling Justine reminded me more than a little of my own parents. Though my parents weren’t divorced they came close to it and after a serious suicide attempt by my father they stayed together. Before that there was questions from both of them about who we would each go to live with. It’s an impossible situation to be in as a teenager or young adult.
Haley thinks she is under no illusions about her parents until the day her father abducts her and her brother. Within hours of arriving at their destination there’s an attempt to drug them both (for their own good) and while she immediately fights back from within her own mind she appears to feel like a skinned baby.
Her father is the head of a group of “preppers” (people who prepare for extreme circumstances should they occur) who have gone off grid in order to escape a pandemic which appears to be largely in their minds. He is revered by the group and it has to be said that his planning capabilities are excellent.
As Haley’s story unfolds her character is exposed, her insecurities rise to the top and she feels she has no friends who will notice she is gone; she has pissed them off one by one. Haley my love, we all did that as teenage girls. Our hormones are our driving force and somebody, anybody, is on the receiving end of the explosions.
The one friend she admits to having back home, the one she cares about, is a pretty girl and she worries what will happen if the gangs her father says are rampaging around get to her.
Ed isn’t a woman; he has never walked a longer way home because the light is better and it feels safer, he has never held his keys in a way that they could be used as a weapon and he has not been taught to shout words as opposed to screaming if he is attacked. He does not know that women fear for one another and he does not know that his stories about what is happening are scaring his daughter on behalf of her friend.
As a child bordering on adulthood she can and won’t cope with the situation she finds herself in. She is forced to make decisions that she isn’t competent to make. The first turns out okay but almost doesn’t (and the way we hear about that is bloody funny) but the second underlines her father’s values even though I urged her to take the path that would undermine them.
She is, in a bizarre way, the eldest child in the group. The rest are in a perpetual state of psychological neoteny. Her father Ed is a fantasist, Justine, her mother, is a bully, Ray is an alcoholic who is dry not sober, Meg is an inadequate wannabe mother figure and Danny is an almost-a-man child with whom she finds herself in a kind of relationship.
And Ben, poor little Ben. As a result of the second decision forced upon her she traps Ben perpetually in a situation that suits the others – all they want to do is to keep him happy in the present and they seem to forget that he will grow older. By the time he comes to realise that he has no future he will be incapable of doing anything about it.
One day, as is the tendency with all hidden communities, a large amount of shit will hit an equally large fan and it will end in more than tears. Will Haley and her ferocious personality survive the end of the community in a good way or will she become embittered by her experience?
You read her story and then tell me.
You can find Ewan Morrison on Twitter as @MrEwanMorrison