You’d be hard-pressed to find two places more dissimilar than the dust bowl of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” and the almost sterile futurism of the Star Wars saga.* Similarly, you’d be hard-pressed to find two characters less alike than Lennie—the physically huge, mentally challenged co-subject in “Of Mice and Men”—and tiny, wise Yoda from the Star Wars saga. Yet both of these worlds and these characters are prominent in Gae Polisner’s excellent novel, “The Pull of Gravity.”
Nick is about to begin his freshman year of high school. He’s reasonably excited, even though the town is small enough that there is only one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school, so there won’t be any new classmates. Nick’s best friend, Scooter Reyland, is a grade ahead, already in high school, when he can attend. Scooter has Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, which speeds up the aging process. Scooter is sixteen years old, though his body is the age of a very old man. He knows he’s going to die soon, and he’s okay with that.
Scooter’s other good friend is Jaycee Amato, a sort of eccentric girl who wears troll dolls around her neck and Slinkys for bracelets. Scooter and Jaycee seem an unlikely pair of friends, but Scooter has lots of friends, more than “normal” teenager Nick.
Nick first meets Jaycee when she accompanies her stepfather—a local TV celebrity—on a story. Soon after, Jaycee emails Nick to come over sometime and play shuffleboard. (Her stepfather’s gigantic house has its own shuffleboard court.) So Nick and Jaycee begin their friendship over shuffleboard and talk of Scooter.
Scooter has given Jaycee a mission: after he dies, he wants Jaycee to find his long-gone father, and return to him a book—an autographed first edition of “Of Mice and Men” worth about $15,000. Jaycee cajoles Nick into going with her. The only Reyland they can find in all their computer research lives in Rochester, a few hours’ bus ride from Albany, the nearest city to their tiny New York town. One Thursday, Nick’s mom leaves town for the weekend, and the pair take that opportunity to set off for Rochester.
By the time the two are on their way home on a late night Trailways bus, both of them have learned a lot about themselves, about life, and about how things happen in the real world. As carefully scripted their mission is, Steinbeck haunts them, just like the source of Steinbeck’s title, from poet Robert Burns: The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.
In the end, whether they succeed in their mission doesn’t really matter. It’s that they make the journey, that they grow their friendship, and that Nick becomes a braver, stronger person along the way.
This is the kind of book where you feel yourself traveling along with the characters. Nick and Jaycee are amazingly well-drawn in their stark differences and their sad similarities. A lot of friendships come out of the latter—people with common backgrounds and interests find each other fairly regularly—but it’s rare that two complete opposites bond as tightly as Nick and Jaycee do.
In “The Pull of Gravity,” author Gae Polisner brilliantly describes both the physical landscapes the two encounter, and their individual mental landscapes.
Their catalyst is Scooter. His machinations bring about this mission, and cement Nick and Jaycee’s friendship. He’s like a wizened Yoda—his favorite Star Wars character—and sagely, he knows how much Nick and Jaycee need each other. Metaphorically, through his constant Yoda quotes, Scooter has provided wisdom for the future. The past—the Steinbeck book—is a small thing, safely hidden away within its own pouch. Nick and Jaycee are charged with giving away the past, and moving on into the future. After following them around on their adventures, we get the impression that their future will glow like a light-saber on a dark Tatooine night.
Most Highly Recommended
*- I realize the Star Wars saga was set “A long time ago,” but it’s pretty futuristic for us.