Author: Francisco X. Stork
Marcelo Sandoval is a 17-year-old young man with an unspecific cognitive disorder similar to Asperger’s Syndrome. His father makes him take a summer job in his law firm’s mailroom. If Marcelo succeeds, he can finish his last year of high school at the private school he has attended. If he does not succeed, Marcelo has to go to public school for his last year. As he learns to navigate the social minefield of the “real world,” he finds himself in the middle of a legal drama, faced with tough and sometimes dangerous choices.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a great deal. Stork’s prose is spare, but impressively tight. He conveys complex emotion and vivid imagery without a lot of bloat. The plot is well constructed and moves along at a pace that holds the reader’s attention. The characters are mostly well done, although this is where my main issue originates.
My one problem with the book comes down to characters. Marcelo has a unique and engaging voice. Stork, by refusing to commit to the Asperger’s or any other diagnosis for the character, cheats a little so that Marcelo can behave inconsistently at times. At the end of the day, I was able to live with that inconsistency and chalk it up to his character growing in fits and starts.
The character of Arturo was another story for me. I found myself hating Marcelo’s father and not being able to believe him. He is an ivy-league trained, high-powered lawyer, but he makes moronic decisions and forces them on his son. It is one thing to challenge your child, but I have a hard time buying that a parent would intentionally put his son into demeaning and potentially dangerous situations without warning or preparation. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for some of Arturo’s behavior. On Marcelo’s first day of work, he is ready, but Arturo refuses to leave until the last possible minute forcing them to have to rush for their train. Now, this could have been Arturo’s way of desensitizing Marcelo to the possibility of not being able to always leave on time. Sometimes you are rushed. But why wouldn’t he just explain that to him? What is the point of trying to teach a lesson if it’s just going to hang there between them? Arturo struck me as someone smarter and more conscientious than that. I found his behavior toward Marcelo to be extreme, mean and contrived most of the times he appeared in the story. With more development, I may have found him less offensive. Perhaps Stork meant for him to be offensive.
Despite all that, Stork really pushed my buttons, which is what successful writing does. I’d rate this story lower if I hadn’t felt anything reading it. Granted, I wasn’t reading through a remotely objective lens. Even though I found the story painful to read at times, and I had a hard time not seeing my own son’s face when I pictured Marcelo, I was glad to have had the experience. Marcelo in the Real World certainly evokes questions, some of which I am still trying to answer for myself.
3/5 – recommended