The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith, is about sixteen-year-old Jack Whitmore, who gets kidnapped and narrowly escapes. And that's just the beginning of the story. When he and his best friend, Conner, travel to London for summer break, a stranger gives Jack a pair of glasses. Through these glasses, Jack is able to see and experience another world: Marbury. It's not a good place.
Right up front, I'll tell you this: I loved this book, but it scared the crap out of me. And Jack broke my heart. And I'm still thinking about it, and those thoughts make me squirmy inside. The author did his job. I said I was a fan of visceral books, and this is about as visceral as they get (if you like Stephen King, then Marbury is for you!).
I could write so many posts about The Marbury Lens: The acute aftereffects of Jack's traumatic experience. His poignant, authentic relationship with Conner. His sexual naïveté and how that plays out with a girl he meets. His struggle to do the right thing (or, the least terrible thing) in the most barbaric of circumstances. However, what I'm going to focus on today: Jack's oft-repeated question as he is yanked in and out of the world of Marbury ...
Is this real?
I admit, as I read, I pondered this pretty feverishly. For psychologists, the question of whether someone's experience is "real"--as opposed to the product of hallucination or delusion--is a very serious one. In The Marbury Lens, Jack tries to negotiate the "real" world while simultaneously experiencing an alternate universe full of cruelty and bleak odds for survival. He becomes deeply emotionally invested in this world and its inhabitants, particularly two younger boys who look to him for leadership. Despite the horrors of Marbury, Jack goes back again and again, unable to stay away.
But still, he keeps asking if it's real, and so did I.
An easy definition of reality: the world as it actually is.
Hilarious. If that's the case, reality is impossible for humans to perceive. We're finite, so how can we accurately perceive something infinitely complicated? And I'm not just talking quantum theory and whether-God-exists, I'm talking about the diversity of our perceptions and how my reality is different from your reality.
Probably we would agree that if only one of us could see it, the likelihood of it being "real" diminishes. Yes?
What if two of us could see it and three of us couldn't?
What if all but one of us could see it?
What if that one person could offer scientific proof that the thing sitting in the corner wasn't actually there, but the rest of us could hear the thing talking, and it told us our resident scientist was officially nuts?
To some extent, we co-create our reality. We are very much reassured when others perceive the same things we do. It makes things real for us. Of course, popular conception--or perception--is sometimes proven wrong, but that doesn't always change our beliefs about reality. Especially if we've still got others on our side. As he's trying to determine what's real, Jack looks for that kind of comfort, but a few things get in the way--like the fact that Conner, who loves him and could provide the reassurance he needs ... is trying to kill him in Marbury.
I am swayed more by data than anecdote. I'm a horrible skeptic. A scientist. A realist. And yet, I'm a person of faith. Sometimes my head is an uncomfortable place to inhabit. Maybe that's why this book affected me so deeply. It explores this concept of other realities pancaked on top of (or within) ours, edges kissing, occasionally intruding upon each other. I absolutely love this idea. I find it both terrifying and incredibly hopeful. Unsettling AND reassuring.
So: does Marbury turn out to be an elaborate hallucination? Is Jack grabbing his demons by the horns in an alternate world, or is he dissociating as a result of the trauma he endured? Is his journey one to hell or healing? Is he taking control or losing it? Is his need to return to Marbury emotional addiction or moral compulsion? Is Marbury real?
Would you like to find out?
If you've read this book, what do you think?
(And, most importantly, do you need a sequel as badly as I do?)