Eli Gottlieb * Liveright * August 24, 2015 * 256 Pages
Best Boy, by Eli Gottlieb, is told from the perspective of Todd Aaron, an autistic fifty-something-year old man and long-time resident of Payton Living Center, a therapeutic community for people with developmental disorders. Though Todd demonstrates certain levels of higher functioning, in that he reads (the Encyclopedia Britannica is his favorite), uses a computer, pines for a girlfriend, enjoys travel, etc., he still has only limited understanding of what is going on around him—which means the reader does, too. The story centers on Todd’s relationships with numerous sleazy people in his life, including his dishonest brother, his dead (but ever-present) abusive father, and a shady new counselor at Payton who immediately gives Todd a bad feeling.
This book is beautifully written, but it is sad, sad, sad. Todd is so simple, innocent, and vulnerable; it’s hard to watch him be mistreated. And it’s downright heartbreaking to see him blame himself for the abuse and then respond by trying to be “better,” by trying to be the “best boy.” It’s just a deeply unsatisfying storyline.
On the other hand, it’s also an emotionally powerful one, too. Gottlieb captures Todd’s voice so convincingly, and I was completely invested in the well-being of this character. Best Boy is unique and wonderfully written. But it is also HEAVY, with not one shred of hope, optimism, or redemption. Ultimately, I’d say it’s worth a read—just know what you’re getting into.