A Matrix of Angels
Christopher Conlon

Creative Guy Publishing (2011)
Review by Ron Breznay

Chris Conlon has penned a novel about friendship which is hauntingly beautiful and beautifully written. It has just enough gore thrown in to keep the reader off balance, which is appropriate since the horror in the story throws the characters’ lives off balance.

The novel contains alternating chapters of Fran’s life as a 12-year-old girl and her adult life 30 years later, demonstrating that time may not heal all wounds, especially those of childhood. Matrix is ultimately a story about the power of friendship.

The story starts with an unlikely friendship between two girls who are almost complete opposites in appearance and behavior. But maybe the friendship wasn’t that unlikely. They are both misfits who need each other because no one else will have them. Not only were they rejected by their peers, but Fran — the protagonist — was sent away from home by her parents to live with an aunt and uncle she didn’t know and who weren’t really happy to have her around.

The friendship between Fran and Lucy quickly blooms, becoming an intense relationship so typical of young teen-age girls. It is also a necessary friendship as they need each other to fend off the female bullies at their school.

It is easy for the reader to get caught up in Fran’s story because, sadly, many readers would probably identify with her: “I should explain that, for whatever reasons, I did not then (nor do I now) possess a gift for friendship. I was always the child who sat in the corner studying her book, never participating in games or sports unless I was forced to. When that happened, I invariably embarrassed myself, falling and skinning my knee at hopscotch, striking out or dropping the ball in softball. I was humiliated by my body…” Whether true or imagined (and pre-teens and young teens have enough angst to imagine the worst), many adults reading this passage will nod knowingly.

The book is peppered with exquisite turns of phrase, such as this reflection during Fran’s first day at a new school in her new town: “…I felt somehow that I’d had enough difference for one day, that if one more different thing happened to me I might shatter into pieces.” And after expressing her affection to her estranged daughter: “And later — very, very much later, so much later that I thought I might never hear her voice again in this life — I heard her whisper to me in return, nearly inaudibly, but audibly: ‘I love you too.’”

The story proceeds flawlessly along its course to a perfectly acceptable ending. From the beginning, the reader knows how Lucy’s life turned out, but is kept guessing at Fran’s fate. It was inevitable that her life would change for the worse, and it’s satisfying to see how she overcame her difficulties and finally dealt with all her demons.

The book includes the short story of the same name which was the basis of the longer work.

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