Andrew Bourelle’s first novel grabs you by the throat from the first sentence and drags you deep into a vividly imagined world. The milieu is working class, 1980’s hard-luck America, where Headbangers Ball is playing on MTV and the kids aren’t all right at all. Heavy Metal is an intense, suspenseful, and moving novel that gives due respect to lives that are mostly ignored. Heavy, indeed—and unforgettable.
A real gut-punch of a novel, Heavy Metal sings with energy and beauty and honest abandon about grief and hope and trying to find one’s balance in an unsteady world. At a certain point [spoiler alert] the young narrator shoots a bottle out of the sky. “The glass explodes like a bottle rocket,” as he tells it, “the shards glinting in the firelight underneath the gray-lit sky.” The same can be said for this novel and family, both of which explode “like a bottle rocket, the shards glinting in the firelight underneath the gray-lit sky.”
In Heavy Metal, the desire for vengeance fuels a conflict between high school rivals that forces the protagonist, Danny, to decide between perpetuating brutality and dying or ending it and living. What I loved most, though, were the unexpected moments of searing insight into the hearts, minds, and souls of characters one might otherwise dismiss, leaving them to their grim existential outlooks without ever hearing the poetry of the music whose banner they fly. As suspenseful as it is intelligent and as cinematic as it is lyrical, Bourelle’s first novel is a landmark achievement and, once started, impossible to put down.
Heavy Metal is a brilliant debut novel, at once an incisive, complex character study of damaged youth and a ferociously exciting page-turner. Andrew Bourelle knows that suspense is created not only by a loaded gun, but by the fears of the person holding it. He’s written one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.