To call "Deprivation"a romance or coming-of-age story would certainly be accurate but not entirely true and a criminal understatement. This latest novel from Alex Jeffers, author of "Safe as Houses" and the story collection, "You Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home," follows a young man’s arduous quest to find his place in this world and someone to love amidst economic hardship, family drama and pervasive delusions resulting from an alarming lack of sleep.
Ben Lansing is a 23-year-old California native and recent college graduate just barely making a living as a placement officer at a temp agency in Boston. His co-worker and best friend, Jane, is eager to set him up on a blind date with her client, the mysterious, attractive and recently single, Kenneth.
Kenneth, however, is up against Neddy, a young artist and bike messenger who makes Ben’s acquaintance literally by accident, and Paul Antonescu, Ben’s soccer coach and Italian teacher from prep school, scheduled to arrive in Boston and anxious to reconnect with his former student.
Despite this seemingly impressive list of prospective admirers, Ben’s true love, Dario, is back at home in his Providence apartment. There’s just one problem-the loyal, subservient, 18-year-old Dario doesn’t really exist and is a figment of Ben’s sleep-deprived imagination.
The timeline of the events in Ben’s life over the course of a few short weeks (the demise of his parents’ marriage is but one example) is supplemented by delusions and premonitory dreams containing vivid, explicit imagery ranging from medieval to serene. Perhaps most unsettling albeit engrossing is his ability to distinguish fantasy from reality, yet acknowledging that the line between the two has become increasingly blurred. Therefore, the reader grows fond of Ben and especially sympathetic and concerned for him and his predicament.
Whether it’s something as vast and particular as a painting from a great artist, or the simple, routine act of preparing a meal or commuting to work, Jeffers beautifully describes each setting and scene with such precise, intricate detail that the reader essentially becomes a part of it and bears witness to the occurrence or episode first-hand.
With a character as genuine and likeable as Ben, a compelling story and the author’s extraordinary depiction, "Deprivation" is a worthwhile read.