Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Butterfly Effect

Butterfly Effect, A Novel by Rick Anderson Schuster
(Not to be confused with The Butterfly Effect by Andy Andrews)

Take A River Runs Through It, explode it into a dizzying mix of interlocking puzzle pieces indescribably reshaped into vague flashes of certain and uncertain intangibilities, and you have Rick Schuster’s covertly personal novel about coming-of-age on the Jersey shore, Butterfly Effect. Ken Rossi is a middle-aged swim instructor who once aspired to Olympic stardom but is now a high school gym teacher, ever wondering if he had what it takes but failed to apply himself.

Scouts had acknowledged his natural ability, sowing his imagination with seeds of a golden future. Had he not achieved a citation in Sport Illustrated? Now he wondered where the sidetracks began. Why had he failed to make the necessary sacrifices? When did he begin to realize the dream would never come true? When did his parents first recognize he’d been slacking? What were the emotions ripping their hearts that he never recognized?

The catalyst for Rossi’s self-reflective explorations is a fourteen-year-old Lizzie Norman who catches his eyes during a routine swim meet against Rahway. The teen swimmer has the moves and determination of a champion, the same kind of drive that once drove Rossi as a teen. What he doesn’t anticipate as their relationship unfolds is the manner in which she responds to his fatherly attentions.

It’s the little things that bind the two. Her broken family has filled the pool of her heart with saltwater tears, but his kindnesses instead of helping only serve to exacerbate her pain, becoming the very distraction he hoped she would not have to deal with.

Butterfly Effect explores a variety of sub-plots, including the roles of sports and scholastics in character formation, social posturing, the challenges of adolescence and the difficulty of identifying boundaries regarding appropriate and inappropriate behaviors in a post-modern age.

At times the narrative is a bit jumpy as the reader flashes back and forth between Rossi’s teen experiences and Lizzie Norman’s present struggles. It seems the author was striving to reinforce the parallels of their lives, from different locker room viewpoints.


In the end, Rossi and Norman recognize too late the trap they’ve made for themselves. Both lack the willpower and energy to be proactive in their liberation. When the scandal hits the papers, Rossi realizes that the whole of it began with a single harsh look by his father when he finished second in his first swim meet, a look that at the time he took wrong and only now begins to see in its true light.

Being from New Jersey I could relate to this story a Jersey teen on the edge of the Big Apple and the Big Pond, and the big world out there so near and yet so far away. The highest levels of competition involve pushing through pain thresholds that most of us shy away from. Butterfly Effect explores the internal pain thresholds we grapple with as well. Sometimes it’s just all too much.

If you enjoyed this fictional review of a fictional book, you might also enjoy The Breaking Point and Other Stories, available as an eBook for your Nook or Kindle.

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