I thought that “Shelter in Place” would be an easy read. I thought it would not be a demanding book. I was so mistaken. “Shelter in Place” by Alexander Maksik is not an easy read, not because of the language or the complexity of the plot, but because it is scary – it is scary because at some point or the other, we have literally or metaphorically been on the brink and back. The story is about madness, love, family and deeper contemplative thoughts of everything in life and whether it is really worth it or not.
Alexander Maksik also does not give everything to the reader on a platter. The narrator does seem pretty reliable but you never know. There is always this sense of doubt and apprehension as to what will happen next but it is not that difficult to not fall in love with Joseph March.
The story begins with Joe telling us this: His mother beat a man to death with a hammer, he fell in love with a woman named Tess and he battles something black and dark inside of him. With this start the story propels to the summer of 1991 when Joe is all of twenty-one and all of these facts occur in quick succession.
The bipolar disorder (which he assumes to have inherited by his mother) hovers and engulfs him, he tends to a bar in a small Oregon town and there he meets Tess and his mother Ann-Marie kills a man to death, after seeing him beat his wife and kids. Joe leaves Oregon and Tess to be with his father in White Pine, Washington to be near the prison where his mother is serving a life-sentence. I will only say this much about the book or else I would be giving away the plot if more is added.
The book takes on from there with more incidents that span the past and present and narrated by Joe. The writing is so razor sharp that it will cut you. There are passages, more passages and some more that you cannot help but highlight while reading this book. The characters are as human and flawed as anyone you might meet in the middle of the street. From secondary to primary, all characters are often caught unguarded when it comes to their emotions and what decisions to make.
“Shelter in Place” – the title itself says so much about the book – a place of safety, the process of actually selecting a small room with no windows and taking refuge there. To my mind, all characters are looking for their own “shelter in place” – literally or metaphorically. They all want the assurance that everything will be okay and life will be led normally. Maksik’s writing is carefully orchestrated. At no point, the shift between the past and present events seem forced or out of place. The book will take you to your own deep dark recesses and bring you back – wanting to know more about the person you are.