“Because we don’t have your typical gaps around here. Not gaps made of rocks or mountains. We have gaps in the world. In the space of things. So many places to lose yourself, if you believe that they’re there. You can slip into the gap and never find your way out. Or maybe you don’t want to find your way out.”
I was really excited to read Bone Gap. REALLY excited. It’s newness, high-ranking early reviews, and overall aesthetic drew me in. As I began to read, my excitement dwindled, but not completely. In short? Everything that happened was literally the opposite of what I expected. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby is one of those books that you’re either going to love or hate; and I can’t say I lean closer the first option.
Some background: In the small town of Bone Gap, Illinois, Finn lives with his older brother Sean. It’s a close knit rural town where everyone seems to know everything about everyone, and everyone has an opinion on everything. The brothers’ lives are changed for the better when Roza, a Polish exchanged student, finds her way to this community that is known for its gaps. The gaps of the town, as they’re appropriately named, have a way of sucking people up, consuming them, and allowing them to disappear forever. Roza falls victim with Finn as the only witness to her kidnapping. Bone Gap chronicles the lives of Finn, Sean, Roza, and the rest of the town’s few inhabitants who are somehow able to get by without slipping away.
I’m that reader who’s constantly in search of a point. Both good and bad, I can never read anything without marking up every paragraph and using more post-its than there are pages. From page one of Bone Gap, I was in search of the point. You can normally estimate within fair reason a novel’s theme by the summary alone. Halfway through BG, I still couldn’t find it. Three-quarters, nothing. For a while I assumed it’d be a delayed gratification situation; like when you read the whole book and then suddenly the theme hits you so hard in the most beautiful and wonderful of ways. Reason number one, the most overwhelming of them all, why I didn’t care for Bone Gap is because it fits neither of these situations.
The novel has so many little points that it fails to make a single grand one.
What good is a connect-the-dots puzzle if you don’t actually, well, connect the dots? Laura Ruby tries to talk about everything—beauty, perception, love, self-image, relationships, hardships, sight, burdens, magic, and life in general—so heavily that it cheapens each point and dilutes a story that had the potential to be something so great. Depth outweighs breadth. Always.
Beauty, sight, and perception carry the most weight in the incessant list of themes, but it’s a shame that their impact is watered down by the urge of an author to “cover all the bases.” Laura Ruby took one of the most unique concepts, Prosopagnosia—if you’ve never heard of it, do yourself a favor and look into it. It’s up there on the list of coolest intriguing conditions I’ve ever heard of—and used it to illustrate one of the most common questions of nature: what makes beauty lie in the eye of the beholder? I’ll give praise when praise is due, and Ruby definitely deserves it there. Finn is a delicately written and a beautiful illustration of the point, but it all barely scratches the surface. I too often found myself saying out loud, that’s all?!
Reason number two: magical realism. I didn’t know going into this that it fell in the fantasy genre. Being a very realistic person, I don’t have the patience for things that are fantastical and otherworldly. Bone Gap took the idea of a “gap” and stripped it of its metaphor. Instead, they were literal gaps. The mystery behind the fantasy, because it was so unsuited for the plot, left me with more questions than answers, and not in a satisfying way. I hated the magical realism of the novel, but playing devil’s advocate I can see and appreciate how severely different, and perhaps too literal, the story would have been without it. If reality with a twist is your cup of tea, you’ll love this book.
At the heart of everything, I’m very fond of the surface level story. I have a thing for small towns. They possess potential for such grand metaphors, (because if you haven’t already been able to tell, I practically BREATHE metaphor) and have a way of making the characters seem more quaint and charming. With the third person point-of-view and alternating focus between chapters, the town of Bone Gap became a character in and of itself. The choice in narration by Ruby also helped to support (what I consider to be) BG’s main argument of perception. Her style is also worth noting and appreciating.
In short, Bone Gap disappointed me; but like I said, it’s one of those books that you’re either going to l o v e or h a t e. If you can read a story without pining for a point, and magical realism is your thing, then you’ll adore it. Judging by those two things alone, I’d say this could be one of the most talked about books of the year. If you’re like me and that isn’t your preference, I won’t completely deter you from reading. My only advice: read lightly. Bone Gap, when taken for exactly what it is, has potential.