This one Time with Julia by David Lampson is the kind of novel that gives me headaches. And so, like many things that give me headaches, I tried to think of it graphically (with the x axis being page number, for example, and the y axis being speed of plot). But how do you graph an intellectually disabled 18-year-old who only eats pizza and cheeseburgers, in love with the dangerous ex-girlfriend of his dead brother, who may or may not have been murdered by her brother, who was adopted–and may or may not love her?
If you’re still trying to figure out that last sentence, I shouldn’t need to tell you that this book is a whirlwind. It doesn’t start out that way, though. The narrator, Joe, is the disabled younger brother of Alvin and Marcus, and as such his narrating style can be slow and uneventful, and sometimes, frankly, boring. During the first few chapters, before you learn about Joe’s disability, his conduct just seems confusing, pointless, and aggravating.
At first, all you’ll see is a painfully naïve teenager who misses his dead twin, living with his ambitious older brother. This part is boring, but if you can grit your teeth and make it through the first 50 pages, you will be rewarded with an intriguing and rapidly growing cast of characters. Joe begins to narrate the story of his past, and the strange events that have brought his family to their current state. We meet Alvin, now deceased, who shows up and invites Joe to sail around the world with him. Joe wants to go, even though Marcus, who hates Alvin, threatens to turn him out of his apartment. But then the mysterious Julia, the epicenter of the novel, appears.
It’s hard to write a novel where the whole plot comes down to a single character, but David Lampson has accomplished it. Most of this success is due to the fact that Julia is, frankly, a bitch. But she’s also a bit of an angel, and that makes her interesting enough to capture the reader’s attention, not to mention Alvin and Joe’s hearts (Not simultaneously. That would have been . . . messy). Most of the intriguing questions of the novel, the ones that keep the reader guessing constantly, center on Julia as well. Does she really love Joe? Is she genuinely concerned about Alvin, or just passive-aggressive? Does her adopted older brother love her? Does she really want him killed? And perhaps most importantly—and let me know if you figure this out—what was ‘this one time with Julia’?
Meredith Hilton hails from Washington, DC during the school year (in the summer, her location is pretty much up to chance). On any given day you can find her online, being artsy, in the library, or surreptitiously writing poetry during math class.