FIFTY PLASTIC BOTTLES AND THE SHOESHINE BOX bytells the story of a Pakistani boy named Katib who, along with his mother and uncle, finds himself living in the shadow of his beloved father’s death. Thrust by his uncle into all manner of dirty, low-paying jobs, Katib meets a young Pathan boy named Gul Khan and, together, the two stumble blindly forward into a startlingly cruel adult world.
In many ways, FIFTY PLASTIC BOTTLES AND THE SHOESHINE BOX is that most frustrating of creatures: a text that tells a great story in a rich setting occupied by vivid, authentic characters that is, nonetheless, stylistically messy and, to be frank, a total editorial failure. Myre is far too quick to thank her editors in the book’s acknowledgments—in terms of pure technicality, the text is extremely rough around the edges, with errors in capitalization, punctuation, grammar, tense, and syntax all rife; there are even a couple of sentences that are totally nonsensical. And it’s not just technicalities that have been neglected: Myre’s writing, while strong in places, undermines itself constantly by endlessly reiterating and explaining information the reader already knows. On top of that, definitions of Pakistani terms are just dropped straight into the story, dragging the reader out of the fictional world and back into their rooms. These are all flaws any editor worth their salt should have flagged and fixed.
If you can wade through these glaring technical and stylistic flaws, however, what awaits you is a pleasingly grim yet lightly told story of poverty, friendship, and lost innocence. FIFTY PLASTIC BOTTLES AND THE SHOESHINE BOX is veritably Dickensian in its thematic preoccupations and, while its character roster thankfully isn’t as swollen as Dickens’s, its style is distinctly Victorian: its pace is measured, its drama understated, and its omniscient third-person narrator unafraid to cast casual moral judgements Dostoevsky-style. Even the plot bears striking similarities to Oliver Twist, and Dickens’s character archetypes are all here. Where FIFTY PLASTIC BOTTLES AND THE SHOESHINE BOX ultimately deviates from the 19th century is in its boldness, its refusal to look away from savagery, and its bleak tone: Myre’s Lahore is full not only of cruel, manipulative adults, but also callous, naïve, and selfish children—including, brilliantly, the book’s own protagonists.
Protagonists Katib and Gul Khan spend much of the book rummaging through trash to find valuable plastic bottles—it’s just a shame the reader has to do the same.
Authentic characters, a vivid setting, and a powerful plot find themselves dragged down by stylistic and editorial sloppiness in FIFTY PLASTIC BOTTLES AND THE SHOESHINE BOX
~Fred Johnson for IndieReader