Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card

Look if you want to read this article beware because I am going to blow the plot 8 ways from Sunday.  It is really impossible to talk about this book without blowing the plot.  Some stories, movies, books are just like that.  Its kind of like trying to explain the classic Frik ‘n Frak joke without giving away the punch line.  The punch line is the only thing that ties the story together.  You have to give it if you plan on having a real discussion about it.

imageNow, I do not write ‘book reviews’.  Its just not my thing.  Never intended to do so in the past and do not intend to start now.  I like to write and I like to read even more, but I do not like to write about what I read, kind of.

Consider this particular discussion less of a review of Lost Boys and more of a empathetic dialogue or maybe a commiseration with other marks that have read this book.  I use the term ‘mark’ not to take anything away from the book.  I use it because that kind of fits.  Like the Frik ‘n Frak joke you have to experience the joke and in doing so you have to be the butt of the joke to get the full experience of the story.  That is because the reader or observer actually becomes part of the story and this is not really known until the punch line is dropped.

Lost Boys was written according to the author as a response to Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery.  I did not know that when I read the book, and I am glad I didn’t.  It would have spoiled the book.  Throughout the book boys keep disappearing from a small town, and after reading too many James Patterson novels in the 90’s, I kept expecting a showdown with a diabolical villain. It was written in response to Pet Cemetery such that the author could write a story about a boy that haunts his parents, but the boy is still pure or innocent or at least ‘not evil’. 

So the author walks the reader through this long drawn out story.  This is classic Frik n Frak stuff. The longer the story, the more twists and turns and sub plots the deeper the hook is sunk into the cheek of the reader until the author finally tires of teasing his prey along and jerks the fishing rod of the text into the air, yanks the last remaining hidden plot element and exposes the punch line

or surprise, the son is dead and has been dead for several days.  :(

This comes after the family spends over a year in a town going through all types of stressful events.  Each member of the family seems to have their own battles and problems in this new town. The reader gets to feel the individual stress of each main character.  We get to experience their mistakes in dealing with other people and each other until we almost can’t stand their ignorance and ineptitude in checking their emotions and communicating with people effectively.  This is one big fat roasted red herring.

At the end of the story, the job foibles, the business negotiations, the religious politics, the jousting between what appears to be the perfect couple that continually and amazingly just about loses it every time they turn around, ends up to be utterly meaningless.  Their oldest son whom they thought was crazy for talking to imaginary friends, is actually channeling the dead spirits of ‘lost boys’ whom become his (imaginary) friends.  He’s only in second grade and for some reason is a little dense and can’t come out and say that his friends are dead, that his friends are ghosts, that his friends are buried underneath the house, etc. etc.  (would be more plausible if he were 4 but not second grade).

So ultimately this smart but troubled second grader confronts the serial killer, gets killed himself and then channels his own spirit back from the dead to show the other lost boys how to do it, so that they can expose the killer and give one last good bye to their parents on christmas.  The ‘look Frak a talking dog’ moment takes place in this christmas setting as the boy is explaining his confrontation with the serial killer and his parents silently come to the realization that their own son is dead and a ghost to boot.  It is like a reverse Sixth Sense type of moment (I think this book was written before Sixth Sense, but I may be mistaken and I’m too lazy too look it up.  I’ve written this much, if you want to do a check and leave me a comment, I’m definitely curious but not enough to investigate it myself at this point.)

Now, in general I avoid stories, tv shows, and movies that basically walk characters through stressful situations and confrontations one after the next.  In real life, I do not mind stress.  It doesn’t bother me much at all.  But watching a fictional character deal ineffectively with stressful situations is just annoying.  I almost never watch anything on the We network just for this reason.  This book is riddled with one lousy stressed out situation after the next.  :(  I like many of the books this author has written before, and weirdly the plot line for this book hit amazingly close to home (short of the serial killer and the oldest son turning up as a ghost on christmas).  But I have experienced many similar things:

  • moving to North Carolina, essentially from the Mid West
  • Highly disfunctional job scenarios with a little espionage cooked in
  • Crazy coworkers
  • Bug infestations in the South
  • Teachers that have been far too mean with my son
  • Recorded conversations
  • The birth of a child with physical challenges
  • Troubled finances
  • working freelance from home
  • programming work
  • Corporate trips to conferences and trade shows where deals have to be struck
  • even a bit of a lead foot

Maybe it was all of these similarities that dragged me through this novel.  Maybe it was my past history with other novels by the author.  Regardless I finished, and since I started the book, I was glad I finished it.  Of course towards the end when I did finish it, it was about 2 am, I was tired and stressed (from the book) and then I’m hit with the emotions of the author dealing with the surprise murder of his oldest son, a second grader.  So I spent about 15 minutes sobbing in bed myself.  I do cry during and after reading some books.  Not many.  I don’t cry that often anymore, something to do with being a middle aged man maybe, but even when I’m extremely sad I can’t quite cry.  Very different from my childhood or even teenage years, when just about anything could rapidly drive me to tears or something even close to hysterics.  :)

The last book I recall that made me cry was Beach Music by Pat Conroy.   Now unlike Lost Boys, which surprises you with the sudden loss of a child to a serial killer, Beach Music takes you on a roller coaster ride through just about every emotion a dysfunctional family might experience with a few extra thrown in for shits and grins.

After I finished the book, I crashed, woke up had a normal day and then immediately read the book, “Ender’s Shadow” which is also by the same author.  This is a parallel novel to the book and series Ender’s Game.  I highly recommend both books as they are excellent.  Ender’s Shadow might even be a better book, but I do recommend reading Ender’s Game first.

That much more uplifting book helped me put the serial killer killed my son book behind me.  I’ve now moved on to Magic Man, by Orson Scott Card in audio format and The Lazarus Effect by Frank Herbert (author of Dune) and Bill Ransom, whom I’ve heard of before but haven’t placed yet and not sure if he has written anything else I would recognized.  I’m absolutely terrible at names.  I blame this in part on the hundreds/thousands of books I’ve read.  I can rarely keep authors names straight.  I’m only slightly better at character names in fact. 

I’ve been doing a lot of programming and web design lately, and while I’m doing this left brain heavy lifting I’m filling up my brain with content and stories and emotions and settings and styles.  I’ll likely get back to some more heavy writing myself very soon, but I always like to approach my writing with a full tank of gas in terms of literature that has recently been read.

3 Responses to Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card

  • martin C says:

    Like many inept critics of great works, I am afraid you have hit far off the mark. Orson Scott Card’s novel “Lost Boys” is not so terrible as you describe. How many deaths by a serial killer have you connected so much to, so as to sob through the end. This book is a master storytellers entrance from his normal sci-fi, extraordinary characters world, into a much more real and relatable world. Obviously you do not have either an eight year old son or brother, because you would have to realize that this is exactly the behavior one goes through in such a situation. The use of so many plots and twists are to so fully ensnare us into the author’s life that we cannot simply scratch our heads at the death of his son, but that we must mourn, indeed as we may mourn our own child.
    Also, I suggest you read the short story for which this novel is based on, a Card original. The story, along with the disclaimer after it, is written as Card’s own life, with his own wife and children, and a fictional son to kill. This story, as well as the novel, is so well written that many of Card’s friends and neighbors inquired after the author on whether he actually did lose a son to a serial killer. The disclaimer tells us no, and that it was hard for him to write from the view of a parent never actually placed in this situation. Card says that he actually drew a lot of inspiration in writing this from his son’s mental illness, and how that often tears him apart, as if murdered.
    We cannot write of Lost Boys as a sob story, nor a poorly written science fiction novel. Instead, we must recognize that it is really the writer’s most personal, and most creative, masterpiece yet in an already prolific career.

    • Hey Martin,

      Your comment made me crack up with laughter. :) I am not criticizing Card for this book. Imho Frik n Frak is one of the best jokes of all times. There is nothing wrong with being a ‘mark’ in fact sometimes one must be the mark to get the experience.

      This is a good book, wouldn’t call it one of his best by a long shot, no where near as good as the first three Ender’s books, nor Seventh Son or Red Prophet for example, but still a very good book.

      I did read the author’s dialogue about how this was based on his own experience living in NC.

      You failed to understand that I am not describing this book as terrible (never used the word) but as an experience, an emotional experience at that.

      Life is a bit of a roller coaster and you have to take in all the experiences to develop a palette for what is both good and bad but amazing and even ‘terrible’. In this book, Card does provide a great experience, even though at the end he drops a punch line reminiscent of “Look Frak it’s a talking Dog” at the end.

      I’m not saying that is bad, nor even a cop out, nor even that it lacks creativity. It is just simply the form that he chose to express with his art, an art that I savored as much as the telling of Frik n Frak.

      Obviously, you don’t read my blog very often or you might realize that I do in fact have a son (now 11) and a brother a couple years younger than myself. That said it has nothing to do with anything in regards to the way Card wrote this book. Master Story teller (many say yes, I’d say maybe) but not to take away anything from Card, I’ve just read better authors that have developed a far deeper catalog of master pieces. I’d like to see more from Card of high & consistent quality, unlike the Ender’s saga that in the later books start to peter out, or in the last few of the Alvin Maker series that lose their way entirely.

      The use of plot twists is definitely fun and nice, but in the end, they are all slight of hand to turn us away from a mystical result like a talking dog, that the reader can not guess at for most of the book as there are very few hints at the real source of the antagonist, other than the fact that there are two parents, who completely fail to have a meaningful conversation with their son, which is very un-parent like imho as the father of 3.

      In general, I don’t think you have to be a fan boy of an author to really get into what they write, nor do you have to be a fan boy or a severe critic to write about your experience with a book. I don’t write book reviews, I am not a critic. I could care less what critics say about books. I simply wrote about my experience with this one, which is why when you called me an inept critic, I found it really very funny. :)


      • ps I was trying to figure out why a person might think this was a critique of Orson Scott Card’s book. I noticed that Google (one of the least updated and improved search engines to claim to be the best and have people tend to agree) has my article improperly served up under the keywords “lost boys review orson scott card”.

        If you came here looking for a critique or review of Lost Boys, then I’m afraid Google has made a mark out of you. :( Sorry about that, I can’t get them to do anything with their crappy search engine. Maybe one day some one will complain enough about the bad results and people will be able to find what they are looking for again.

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