The Leap Year Boy, by Marc Simon. Untreed Reads. Ebook(only) $4.99 at major online booksellers.
Untreed Reads Publishing is an ebook publisher that is proud of not adding to the demand for paper and the consumption of trees. Along with many other publishers, it believes that there are enough readers for electronic editions to abandon the business model of offering both ebooks and traditional books.
Naples author Marc Simon’s first novel is both historical and whimsical. It exploits readers’ interest in the long ago and the far out. Set in early 20th century Pittsburgh, it covers about six years in the life of a very special young man. Born on “Leap Year Day” in 1908, Alex Miller has the remarkable distinction of being about one quarter the size of a normal newborn. Moreover, his physical growth is in keeping with the fanciful premise: it takes him four years to grow a year. That is, he grows in terms of his leap year (February 29) birthdays. At the age of six, he is still a small toddler.
Slow as his physical maturation may be, his mental growth is accelerated. He seems exceptionally bright – especially when his precocious articulation is released from his tiny body.
Born into a working class family with two older brothers, Alex is given plenty of loving attention. As a freak, Alex is sometimes considered miraculous, sometimes a “little darling” (especially by women), and sometimes people cruelly make fun of him. Essentially, he is “the neighborhood celebrity mascot.” However, he is also spirited and self-aware – at once innocent and mature, if not worldly. Alex has a great deal of curiosity and a thirst for adventure.
But first of all, Alex is himself a curiosity. His brother’s are quick to wheel Alex down the street in a wagon to sell glimpses of him, and over the course of the novel Marc Simon’s interest is to dramatize the propensity of those around Alex to monetize his freaky charm. What people see in Alex tells us much about their own character, and little about his.
After his mother Irene dies during a diphtheria epidemic, Alex is for a long time cared for by his maternal grandmother, Ida Murphy. He lives with her on the weekdays when his brothers and Abe are at school and at work. This woman, whose mind evolves into religious nuttiness, sees Alex as God’s messenger, maybe even a messiah figure. She gets swept up into revivalist fervor, drinks heavily, and abandons her Catholic church. She ends up dying in a fire accidentally started by Alex when his pinwheel briefly touches a votive candle. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 7, 2013 Naples Florida Weekly, the February 13 Fort Myers edition, and the February 14 Bonita Springs and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Marc Simon