Luke Butler can’t seem to figure out how to fit himself into the world. Living in a small town in west Texas with his grandparents, first-grader Luke appears afraid of almost everything associated with the wider world. He finds refuge playing under his covers, wants nothing to do with other children and finds himself and anxious and afraid of classmates, his classroom and his teacher.
Author Mitchell Allen paces COUNT IT ALL JOY in five-year increments, and Luke grows from anxious child to loner teenager to someone alone in an adult world that values everything Luke isn’t. Luke and his alienation from the world build over time with each encounter with the world falling short, whether with a teacher, church pastor, or girlfriend. The trope of the caring other who comes in to save the lost soul is demolished in this novel. People are disinterested or offer the wrong advice. Luke isn’t unreachable–he’s just not susceptible to simplistic notions of how to live his life.
Allen deftly fills in the blanks of Luke’s life with the every day scenery of small town America. With sparse, controlled prose, Allen allows Luke’s story to build naturally. Luke attends church and goes to baseball practice. He sits in the middle school lunchroom. Luke drinks too much at a college party. He obediently but disinterestedly stocks the shelves at his part-time job. Luke’s life is the alienation humans feel—although most to a lesser degree—in a modern world that treats each life as a cog in a bigger, irrelevant machine.
Luke’s grandma loves Luke, treating him with care and kindness. He envies her ability to take life at face value, never digging deeper, allowing for a happiness mounted atop a religious conviction that does away with any desire to ask “Why?” Luke’s Grandpa comes out of central casting: a mechanic with a taciturn manner who drinks and just wants Luke to be like “the other boys.” Miller brings out their goodness even as Luke questions their inability to see the world for what it is.
And when Luke finally allows the reality of what he knows to be true about life reveal itself fully to him, he acts. Readers will find that journey discomforting, illuminating and satisfying. When the last paragraph slides by, COUNT IT ALL JOY adds up to a thoughtful and readable trip through a life devoid of the usual illusions life.
With COUNT IT ALL JOY, Mitchell Allen unfurls a subtle, poignant and engaging look at one young man’s life in a small-town, amidst the unsatisfying search for belonging and meaning in the modern world.
~Greg Rideout for IndieReader