Charlie and Whiskey are twin brothers, once inseparable but now barely speaking. As the result of an accident, Whiskey is in a coma. As the chances of Whiskey’s recovery wane, Charlie is forced to reflect on his relationship with his brother and examine his role in their estrangement.
This novel describes Charlie’s journey of self-discovery. Charlie has always seen his brother as bold and carefree, someone who steals the limelight and always gets what he wants. He certainly blames his twin for their problematic relationship. Gradually, however, he comes to realize that perhaps he himself is not blameless and bears some responsibility for the situation.
Characterization is a definite strength, particularly that of Charlie. The use of a foil helps develop Charlie’s character through contrast. Rosa, Whiskey’s wife, is Charlie’s opposite. She is very forthright and “’looks for the good in people and doesn’t worry about the rest.’” Charlie is a very realistic character with both flaws and positive qualities. There are instances when the reader will understand his behaviour and fully sympathize with Charlie and yet at other times will want to slap him for his self-righteous judgements of others. Charlie tends to see the flaws in others rather than in himself, but then that is human nature. I found myself both liking and disliking him; in other words, he arouses contradictory emotions like many people one encounters in life.
There are 29 chapters with titles taken from the two-way radio phonetic alphabet, beginning with Alpha and ending with Zulu. Charlie and Whiskey used this alphabet on the walkie-talkies they had as children and used to talk to each other. This structure is very effective and appropriate. Not only does the word of the title feature in the chapter, but a major theme is that of communication.
It becomes clear that one of the major reasons for the dysfunctional family dynamics is the lack of communication. Difficult subjects are never discussed. Even with his mother, Charlie “dreads the thought of having to talk to her about the situation or, worse still, talk around it. Easier to avoid her altogether.” And when Whiskey is in a coma, Charlie makes excuses not to talk to him, and he admits that if someone did something he didn’t like or approve of, “’I stopped talking to him.’” A member of Whiskey’s medical staff speaks about how he would have to relearn how to talk should be awake from the coma: “’Talking is, of course, a learned response. . . . talking is an extraordinarily complex process.’” And one that Charlie must learn.
The style of the book makes it very readable. The tone is conversational. Though there are frequent flashbacks, they do not jar. The point of view is consistent: third person limited omniscient focusing on Charlie’s viewpoint. This point of view means that the reader is faced with determining the accuracy of Charlie’s portrayal of his brother, but a discerning reader will soon realize that Charlie is insecure and not very self-aware so his conclusions about his brother should not be taken at face value. This point of view adds to the interest of the narrative.
I definitely recommend this book. It is skillfully written and has believable characters. The topic will be relatable for most readers since sibling rivalry is not an uncommon experience, and it could be argued that everyone’s family is probably dysfunctional to at least some extent.