In Caroline Bock’s Before My Eyes, Claire has spent the last few months taking care of her six-year-old sister, Izzy, as their mother lies in a hospital bed. Claire believes she has everything under control until she meets a guy online who appears to be a kindred spirit. Claire is initially flattered by the attention but when she meets Max, the shy state senator’s son, her feelings become complicated. Working alongside Max at a beachfront food stand is Barkley. Lonely and obsessive, Barkley has been hearing a voice in his head.
Narrated in turns by Claire, Max, and Barkley, Before My Eyes captures a moment when possibilities should be opening up, but instead everything teeters on the brink of destruction. [from publisher]
I don’t usually read books that are told in three perspectives but I’m glad that I read Before My Eyes. Told in a non-linear fashion, Before My Eyes fleshes out mental illness, violence, and the struggles of being a teenager all at once. It’s the kind of book that makes you think and the kind of book where you end up knowing the characters well. It’s also the kind of book that I’d want to reread.
All of the characters have problems and combined with the alternating perspectives, I was initially like “WHAT IS GOING ON HERE” but I got the hang of it. 17-year old Claire and Max both want to be normal. Claire is struggling to deal with her mother’s stroke, her emotionally distant father who’s either working or at her mother’s bedside at the hospital, and her six-year-old sister, who Claire has to take care of for the end of the summer. Max on the other hand is struggling with his minimum wage job, which he took to improve his state senator father’s image and his coworkers, who Max struggles to relate to. It’s a lot all at once for both of them and yet Bock makes the characters easy to relate to.There’s also Barkley, a 21-year old, who works at the same beachfront shop that Max does. He hears voices in his head and has an obsession with Claire.
In alternating perspectives, the story spirals towards a terrible event on Labor Day where Barkley pulls out a gun and starts shooting. What I loved about this book was that it explored culpability and responsibility, which is a relevant topic right now, especially with the Isla Vista shooting. Who was supposed to intervene? What could’ve been done? What should’ve been done? Max blames himself for not noticing that something was severely off with Barkley and that he missed the signs. But from Max’s perspective, he knew that Barkley was off, but he didn’t know that he was that off. However, is there a distinct and obvious line that delineates the two from the bystander’s viewpoint?
The story is simple but the characters were complex and fleshed out. There’s tragedy in all of the characters but there were things that I could connect to in each of the characters. I enjoyed watching Max’s and Claire’s growth throughout the novel, too. Claire became stronger and Max found happiness as well as true friendship. I’m looking forward to Bock’s books in the future.