In today’s image-saturated, hyped-up, drama-infused world Buzz Aldrin is the equivalent of taking a walk down a meandering country lane: the pace is slower; there’s time to stop and smell the roses, take in the surrounding scenery and really appreciate everything happening around you.
Written in a stream-of-consciousness-style, Johan Harstad takes the reader on an epic journey alongside main character, Mattias, who has developed an obsession with Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon. Mattias’s obsession is as much with the man Buzz Aldrin as it is his status of being number two. Mattias is content, make that determined, to live his life not as the main man but as ‘number two’, the man who is part of something bigger than himself, anonymously contributing to the whole. The fact that Mattias has a brilliant singing voice that can bring a room to a complete standstill and his friends want him to join their band is something that Mattias resists with irreversible consequences.
A loner, Mattias’s world comes crashing down around him when he loses his job and his long-term girlfriend leaves him for another man. A series of events culminating in a blackout sees our protagonist awaken wet and bloodied on the roadside of one of the Faroe Islands, unable to remember how he got there. Havstein, a passing motorist and psychiatrist, stops and convinces Mattias to accompany him back to the Factory, an outpatient centre that Havstein runs for people who have trouble integrating back into society after being institutionalised. Mattias, unbalanced by the direction his life has taken, decides to stay at the Factory as a guest until he finds his centre again.
Is Mattias mad like the other patients at the Factory? It’s difficult to tell: if he is, then so am I because much of his logic, his reflections and his interpretation of life resonated with me. And that is the power of Harstad’s writing. Characters are keenly developed, the story unfolds, layer upon layer, amidst a plethora of pop-culture references, which I personally felt enhanced the storyline and gave Mattias depth and credibility, and both haunting memories and heartfelt moments are revealed with just the right amount of tension. Harstad’s writing is such that I felt as though I was right there alongside Mattias experiencing his highs, his lows, his confusion and his insights. As I read, Mattias changed from a character that I observed to a friend that I cared about and he lingers still, even though I’ve moved on to another book. Buzz Aldrin, What happened to you in all the confusion? is a book that will change the way you view life and what you think it means to be crazy.
Published by UWA Publishing http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/
Johan Harstad will be appearing at the 2012 Perth Writer’s Festival. For more information go to: http://www.perthfestival.com.au/en/