The Internet can be like this: You search for something, and click a link that leads to you a website. There you click on another link, which takes you to another website. Eventually you end up reading about a topic that is nowhere near what you started, but it’s OK, because you have been entertained, or you’ve learned something, or those two hours between classes has been eaten up and you can run off now. This chain of follow-the-link events is how I first heard about Nicola Morgan’s novel Wasted. In fact, I can’t tell you what book blog I found mention of it, only that after reading a blurb I was determined to find a copy. Who knows what exact sequence of events lead to me finding out about this novel, which isn’t the sort of novel I’d normally be attracted to (if I’d seen it sitting on a shelf at a shop, I might not have looked twice). What are the chances of a reader in the US finding out about a novel published in the UK? What luck!
Jack, one of the protagonists, would say that it is luck that lead me to Wasted, but not chance, for they are different things. As he tells Jess early in the story, “there’s no such thing [as chance]. We call it chance when we can’t see the causes. Like spinning a coin – it’s not really chance. There’s physical reasons the coin lands the way it does. Tiny things you can’t see.” Jack is fixated on the idea of luck, making choices based on the flip of a coin, regardless of the consequences. And sometimes the consequences are severe indeed.
Wasted can be read as a teenage romance, a coming-of-age story of both Jess and Jack, who are at the cusp of adulthood. It can also be read as an exercise in reader involvement. I don’t mean to imply that it is a Choose Your Own Adventure style story; the reader is not involved in that way. The reader is involved, however, by being addressed directly by the narrator and being privy to the “what ifs” in Jack and Jess’s story (what if the coin had landed on tails, rather than heads?), and at one point flipping a coin to find out how the story resolves. This is a kind of knowledge we usually don’t get even in a third-person omniscient narrated story.
The narrator in Wasted is a particular kind of narrator. Usually in novels told in the third person, the writer gets the narrator out of the way–the narrator is simply there to relay the tale, not participate. Omniscient or limited, the narrator doesn’t often function as an active member of the story, and for that matter, the reader isn’t either. Nicola Morgan has shaped this narrator a bit differently, though, and it took me some time to adjust my thinking about how a narrator functions, and how I feel comfortable with a narrator’s function. Our narrator here, while not a named character, is more than just someone who relays the tale, and makes sure that we readers remember our place as observer as well. This has great significance when Jack has named his band Schrödinger’s Cat, after quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment. One of the upshots of quantum physics is that the simple act of observing an experiment can change the outcome. So this makes me wonder: by observing Jess and Jack, by watching Jack flip his coin, have we changed the outcome? If we know both results of the flip of a coin–tails the cat dies in the box, heads it lives–if we know this, don’t both states exist at the same time? So how does the story really end?
Having the narrator address me, the reader, directly took me out of the story a bit, but I understand why I needed to reminded that I was an observer, so I have mixed feelings about it. It didn’t lessen the poignant romance between Jack and Jess, nor did it make me care less about either character. In the end, I feel about Wasted very much how I feel about Schrödinger’s poor hypothetical cat: nifty as an idea, as an exercise in thought and experiment, but the ramifications of it make my brain melt a little.
As is apparently, required, full disclosure on how I came by this book for review: I bought it from an online retailer.