Micah’s Letter Essay #2 : Phantom Limbs
October 27, 2016
I most recently completed the novel Phantom Limbs by debut author Paula Garner. The visual aesthetic was what originally drew me to the book at the Barnes & Noble on Post Road. However, as I took off the book jacket and read the brief summary provided, I realized it was not the teen romance I prepared myself for. Rather, this realistic fiction text was just that, painfully realistic. I came to understand the vertically continuous droplets of water on the cover may not have been from the pool where the main character rigorously trained. I realized the title of the book, Phantom Limbs, may not have been referring to the physical loss that amputees sustain; although it is significant to the plot. And that is what both confused and fascinated me. Because although it is not categorized in the mystery genre, everything about this book screams mysterious. The characters, the friendships, the plot, and even the author’s choice of setting. This combination was what made me keep turning the pages, until my questions were answered and the book had it’s ending.
In Phantom Limbs, the main character and accomplished high school swimmer, Otis Mueller, receives word that his old family friend and childhood-sweetheart Meg was coming back to Chicago. However, Meg and Otis both know the barrier that separates them, and are desperate to diminish it. Throughout the novel, Meg and Otis endure tense situations, which constantly remind them of Mason, Otis’s late brother. But as Meg and Otis grow closer, Otis’s friend and swim coach, Dara, is worried that Meg will break Otis’s focus on swimming. Will Meg and Otis be able to be in the presence of each other without grieving the death of Mason Mueller ?
I think the theme of this book is to encourage each other to move ahead, to not dwell on the past so much that it prevents you from moving forward. The author, Paula Garner, structures the characters specifically, so that each individual reacts to the same thing in different ways, much like people. For example, Otis sees his little brother Mason everywhere he goes. Meg also has certain places that trigger her emotions. In a note to Otis, Meg admits that she has been trying to find closure as well. Meg feels responsible for Mason’s death; as an only child she had no one who cared for her as Mason did. She wrote, “… [I tried] to visit list of places … that remind me of Mason, to gradually become okay, or something closer to okay. I did a few of them – Dairy Queen, Chuck E. Cheese’s – … but it was hard, I couldn’t do all of them (319).” But Otis and Meg don’t let Mason’s memory toy with their everyday life. No one expects them to move on, not with the constant reminders of Mason’s short life around every corner. But Paula Garner wisely chose the plot, which connects with all of her character in a deep and interpersonal manner.
I’d compare this author to John Green, because both novelists pay homage to different realistic emotions, such as pain that affects one mentally, socially, and physically. The loss of a loved one is also a favored topic between John Green and Paula Garner. I, along with most people, have more difficulty connecting with characters that are fake; those who have an easy life. When a character faces a real problem, with a solution that may take them time to find, it is easier to empathize for them. Both John Green and Paula Garner seem to understand that. They make their characters relatable for the common reader, in hopes that the reader will learn alongside the character.
Finally, I was mesmerized by this passage in Chapter 4. Otis was going through Mason’s old clothes and the memories that went along with each piece. He thought, “ You love someone and they leave, but they never entirely go away. You feel them, acutely, like an amputated limb.”
At first I thought Otis was just talking about how Mason was gone, but after thinking about it, I realized it wasn’t just Mason that left. Meg left too. She moved away after the accident; she lived in California for three years with no communication with Otis. He was left alone and grieving by himself, no brother, no best friend. That is why the passage stuck out to me. It sums up Otis’s feelings, his thoughts towards everything that has happened to him. So 10 out of 10 for Phantom Limbs. I’m glad I have this book at my disposal, for it is definitely one I will re-read until the pages are yellow and the cover is frayed.