All his life, Max has struggled to piece together what little he knows of his mother. Shortly after he was born, his mother and all of his extended family were killed amidst political turmoil in Beirut, Lebanon. His father, Rasheed, managed to find a way to flee the country with his infant son and rebuild a life in the United States. Rasheed — now Reed — was determined to become a fully assimilated American and give his son everything he needed to be happy and successful. Since Max was too young to remember his mother, he clings to any bit of information Reed proffers; as Max grows more curious about his heritage, Reed remained steadfastly evasive.
Max and his father are best friends — try as they might, neither of them quite fit in — and Max often cares for his father when his debilitating bouts of depression hit. But as Max grows older, their friendship becomes strained, and once Max reaches his teenage years, their relationship is almost nonexistent. Then, when Max turns seventeen, everything changes: he discovers that his father has been lying to him about their past for his entire life. The repercussions of this revelation are shattering for both father and son.
The book follows Max’s coming of age through a multitude of difficult circumstances. His quest for his past is one of the biggest things that drives him, and his relationship with his father also becomes more tenuous as Max gets older and thinks he knows everything; it’s a shock when Max finally realizes just how much he’s misunderstood his father. The book sometimes takes a turn towards the uncomfortable (a sexual relationship with an older woman) or the far-fetched (a rash decision and its subsequent events), but I never once minded any of this because it’s great storytelling. It’s at turns tender, funny, and devastating. At its heart, it’s a story about a father and son who desperately need each other yet can’t figure out a way to move forward.
Dimechkie has written an ambitious debut novel that navigates tenuous family bonds, sexuality, deception, mental illness, and immigrant narratives. I was enamored by the end of the first chapter and cried several times by the time I was finished. It’s not perfect or tidy, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Lifted by the Great Nothing was released today by Bloomsbury USA, an imprint of Macmillan.