By Ekta R. Garg
May 22, 2019
Genre: General fiction
Release date: April 5, 2016
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
After his son’s unexpected death, a man decides to complete the boy’s community service work. He meets someone special in his son’s life and learns to love him all over again, even though it’s too late to tell him so. Author Monica Wood reels readers in with exquisite descriptions but lets the plot flounder in her novel The One-in-a-Million Boy.
Quinn Porter is proud to be a working musician. He doesn’t have major record deals nor does he play national venues. But he always has a job, somewhere, somehow, and when he plays his guitar the world falls perfectly in alignment.
It’s a relief Quinn has his music, because nothing else is going right. Despite being married twice to Belle, the only woman he’s ever loved, he couldn’t make the relationship stick either time. Belle wanted Quinn to settle down, get a regular job, keep normal hours. Quinn would try, really try, but became restless. They thought having a child would make a difference, but even after their son’s birth Quinn couldn’t get wanderlust out of his blood.
Now the worst has happened: his son has died from a congenital heart condition. One day he was here; now he’s not. Quinn is riddled with guilt about the fact that he never got to know his son. He made efforts, but the boy was so different from him that Quinn didn’t know how to relate to him. The fact that his son couldn’t play music drove them even further apart.
When Quinn finds out that his son was working toward a Scout merit badge in community service, Belle convinces him that the least he can do is finish their son’s last seven Saturdays. That’s how Quinn finds himself on the doorstop of Ona Vitkus, a senior citizen who is 104 years old and as sharp as a needle. Ona doesn’t quite trust Quinn at first, only because she’d come to enjoy his son’s company so much, but Quinn’s guilt propels him to fill Ona’s bird feeders, pull the weeds in her yard, and earn her respect.
As time passes, Quinn finds out about his son’s ardent wish to get Ona into the Guinness Book of World Records, and, to his surprise, Ona is game. The two help one another through their personal challenges, which will include a surprise marriage for Belle (to someone else,) a spontaneous road trip for Ona, and the delicate manner in which everyone helps each other through their grief for the boy who brought them together.
Author Monica Wood’s descriptions will delight readers and writers to no end. In one scene when Quinn encounters Belle’s sister, the narrative states:
“He said nothing, following her into the kitchen, where she resumed scrubbing Belle’s sink as if intending to make it disappear.”
Late in the book, Quinn watches a bandmate walk away, and Wood writes:
“From the back, not counting the waistline melting like candle wax over his belt, he could still be the neighborhood kid from Sheridan Street…”
Unfortunately the plot itself doesn’t exhibit as much finesse. Wood lets the characters follow little rabbit trails as they all deal with their collective grief about losing Quinn’s son as well as personal challenges. As a result, the book feels more like a series of short stories stitched together into one larger work rather than a novel with a central through-line.
Also, Wood chose not to give the son a name. Simply referred to as “the boy” or “his/her/their son” throughout prevents any close relationship with the very child who everyone in the novel loves so much. What Wood reveals about him makes him sound like someone readers would love as well, which makes the distance that much more disappointing.
Writers looking to sharpen their skills on descriptive narrative would benefit from reading this novel. Readers who don’t mind several tangents in books would enjoy it too. Otherwise, I recommend readers in general Borrow The One-in-a-Million Boy.