About the Book:
Milo Slade, a home aide in his mid-30s, has just moved into his own apartment after his wife of three years, Christine, asked for a separation. Milo is bewildered as to where his marriage went wrong and dutifully attends couples therapy sessions, though Christine seems angrier every time their paths cross.
Milo also has other issues to deal with. Ever since he was a kid, he’s experienced intense and unavoidable needs to perform specific, odd activities: releasing the pressure seals on jars of Smuckers grape jelly, bowling a strike, crushing a Weeble in a door. In fact, when we first meet Milo, he is desperately trying to rid himself of the word conflagration, which he knows will keep pounding away in his brain until someone besides himself utters the word without knowing of Milo’s need. Milo has spent his entire marriage hiding these demands from Christine; in all his life he has never shared them with a single soul.
Then Milo discovers a video camera and a bag of tapes in a nearby park. Intending to return the items to their rightful owner, Milo begins to watch the tapes, which turn out to be a woman’s video diary. As he searches for clues about the owner’s identity, Milo ends up on an adventure he could never have anticipated.
I’ll start by saying that I didn’t like Unexpectedly, Milo as much as Something Missing. Both novels are quirky and endearing, but I loved Martin (Something Missing) more than Milo. Milo’s situation was certainly odd, but Martin’s was so original and entertaining that I can’t help but like it better. I was a little surprised, as I tend to assume that second novels are usually an improvement over first novels.
However. Unexpectedly, Milo was absolutely enjoyable. Three interwoven story lines kept things interesting: the trouble with Christine and attempts to resolve it; the need to satisfy each strange demand and the consequences of ignoring them; and, of course, the video diary. On top of all that, there are a few great scenes with Milo’s elderly clients sprinkled throughout. My favorite was Edith, who likes to have Milo rake her living room rug to make it look nice. She’s in a book club, and Milo reads the book each month so that Edith can practice her discussion points with him. One of the participants of the book group keeps choosing dense novels: Finnegan’s Wake, To the Lighthouse, The House of Mirth. I was entertained when both Edith and Milo expressed dislike for Blindness by Jose Saramago, which I immediately put on my TBR list after falling in love with Death with Interruptions.
I also had fun seeing where Milo’s adventures took him. Even if his exterior journey was a touch far-fetched, his inner journey was real and satisfying. He learns and grows a lot, so that the novel has a sort of positive upswing to it, much like Something Missing did. I’m being intentionally vague so as not to reveal anything that should not be revealed! Suffice to say, neither Something Missing nor Unexpectedly, Milo were downers.
What I thought was a writing style particular to Martin’s thought processes in Something Missing turned out to apparently be Dicks’s usual style, as the repetition and spelling out of everything were present in Milo’s tale as well. In Something Missing, this style fit perfectly with Martin’s character and seemed to be an extension of him; in Unexpectedly, Milo, it got a tad repetitive now and then. For instance, this paragraph:
“The use of the word decided made his explanation not entirely true, Milo knew, since he decided nothing when it came to his demands. Some unseen force always determined his next course of action, and he simply answered it as best he could. Still, this answer was closer to honesty than even he had expected.” (p. 209)
Out of context it seems ok, but after reading 200 pages about the nature of Milo’s demands, the middle sentence really isn’t necessary; the reader already knows about the unseen force, which Milo, in fact, even nicknamed earlier on. I found myself getting a little frustrated with repetition like that now and then, as the story occasionally seemed to become buried in it. Perhaps it was meant to reflect Milo the way it reflected Martin in Something Missing, but it didn’t work as well for me in Unexpectedly, Milo.
Overall, my quibbles with Unexpectedly, Milo were minor. If you’re new to Dicks’s novels, I cannot recommend Something Missing highly enough and would suggest you start there. If you’ve read Something Missing, though, and are considering Unexpectedly, Milo, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Are there any authors you’ve read whose first novels you’ve preferred to their later work(s)? Or do you tend to prefer first novels to later ones?