Jack is our title character. Lead actors in any book are meant to be inspirational heroes. You are supposed to want to be that person, to fall in love with them. At the very least, we expect them to take our hand for a 300 page romp. Not Jack though. Jack needs a slap. He is recently divorced – not so much miserable, more just confused, misunderstood, bitter, scared…
He’s mostly loved by his friends though, and yet he irritates and annoys with his ‘slit your throat’ melancholy. As Jacks says:
“I just appear miserable and fucked up, when in fact I am vaguely happy and quietly optimistic – though you wouldn’t know it if you actually met me and spent a few seconds conversing with me. You might conclude that I am miserable and fucked up. ”
Apple Rating – Half Empty
Carol is Jack’s girlfriend. Carol is the real hero of the book, and Jack knows it (as he says, ‘You wouldn’t eat Carol, even though she’d make the best meal.’).
In fact, all the female characters are the solid beating heart of the narrative – they just get the bad press. And they get a bad press because the male characters are spineless fools who need someone to blame for their own car crashes. But you can’t blame Carol, because she is just too damn nice and lovely and … brilliant.
“So you HAD planned to tell me Jack? Yes? When were you actually going to tell me that you loved me, given all the chances you have had? When Ted was feeding through a tube and you realised that you didn’t want to die alone, is that when you were going to mention it?”
Apple Rating – Keeps the Doctor Away
Ted is Jack’s best friend. They have known each other since primary school. On page sixteen, Ted tells Jack that he is dying, just months to live. It’s not an auspicious beginning for one of the books main characters, but at least it’s not as pathetic as his desultory ending.
Ted sells life insurance – the irony of which is lost on no one. And he has too many keys on his key ring. The irony of which is lost on every one.
“I think I can categorise my life as ‘freezing my ass off by the side of some god-forsaken field and a dull job I no longer enjoy, with not very much else in-between’.” Ted says bitterly.
Apple Rating – Rotten.
Jack and Ted are maudlin ‘mid-life crisis’ clichés. All the women are strong and emotionally balanced – they keep the various sinking ships afloat. And Jarvis is the happy Einsteinian child-like character who lost his virginity in his early twenties, and has never been burdened by sex again.
Jack and Ted misconstrue Jarvis’ happiness, because they negligently let their own slip through their fingers. Jarvis is the bubbles in their cider. Without him, life is flat.
“You think that chastity causes bleeding because you have joined two entirely separate thoughts in your head and presented them to me as a fact. I have never bled, Jack. You might bleed if you don’t have sex, but not me.”
Apple Rating – A Pint of Your Best!
Ted’s wife, Jack’s original dream, the widow’s pique. She terrifies Jack, supports Ted unconditionally, and has come to define her husband’s demise. For all their keys, the Latimers are searching for missing locks in a gilded cage.
But she is loyal to a fault and as Jack muses:
“I conclude that Helen probably knows who Ted is, and like so many successful wives and husbands, has the strength to see beyond it for the sake of other things. I conclude that successful couples use dishonesty like toilet paper – to wipe away the shit.”
Apple Rating – Forbidden Fruit
Stan is dead. That’s all you need to know. He went for a swim and never came back. Stan was married to Alice. If the pursuit of happiness was a board game, then Stan invented the rules, and most of the characters.
“I take the lid off Stan’s urn and let him feel the warm spring sunshine as a gentle breeze feathers across the surface of the five pounds of gritty, chalky mineral remains that reside within.”
Apple Rating – Gone.
Alice and Stan were the original hippies who ran a newsagents. Stan slipped is hippy mortal coil and Alice has tried to live like a Child of the Universe ever since. Alice is the wisdom in Jack’s unwise world. Jack always feels dumb after their exchanges. As she says:
“I get through it the only way I can, the only way anyone can. My way. You can call it what you will, I found what worked for me – counting people in and counting them out, staring into the space between, seeing the beauty in small things worked for me. I just got through it because the alternative was unthinkable.”
Apple Rating – An Apple of the Universe
Rose is Jack’s daughter from his marriage to Jane. She’s fourteen – a robust vessel of pubescent hormones that bubble and curdle in their cauldron. That aside, she is Jack’s English Rose, his most cherished thing, his one and only moon landing. And like all teenage daughters, she’s constantly irritated by him:
“Oh good. So I’m doomed before I even get started. Well, thanks for that, Dad. This is just one more example of why I spend Sundays with Mum. To avoid these depressing teatime talks,” she laughs.
Apple Rating – The Apple of His Heart.
Jane is Jack’s ex. They still get on, it hurts how they still get on. Jack and Jane are still broken, trying to fix themselves – together and apart. Mostly apart. Jack has Carol now, Jane has also found new love. They still get on, it hurts how they still get on.
“We kept the smiling family photos and the home movies as a kind of passport to congeniality, and we threw the disappointment and the arguments out with the trash. I feel more widowed than divorced.” Jack.
Apple Rating – There is a Hole in Us
Jack’s Dad, widowed for thirty six years – father of three boys. Retired bus driver, phantom philosopher, new friend to Catherine.
“Maybe our soul is the air we breathe and love is the way we breathe it in. Anyway, I believe that love comes from our souls. Oh I don’t know, it sounds kind of crap and bollocks, the way I say that, but you know what I mean.”
Apple Rating – The Big Apple
Catherine holds the key to the past and the future. Catherine is the boss of Eden – nothing can make you more important than that. She is Alan’s friend, and Jack hopes that one day she will be the boss of him too. Jack is looking for the keys to eden.
“If God and Evolution had slept with each other, this is what they would have come up with – Silver Valley would be the secret love child of two differing ideas, a conjugal perfection coalescing the chosen genes of each parent – because when God and Nature conspire, they create Eden.”
Apple Rating – Eden
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