Wasted by Nicola Morgan
Note: this has spoilers.

“Nothing is until it is and until then everything is possible”

Nicola Morgan weaves words into marvels almost too bright to behold. In Wasted she weaves chance, probability, Schrödinger’s cat and Spike the cat into the mix, and I was irresistibly entangled. If you haven’t read Wasted, spoilers are ahead. The story is delectable and spoilers are integral to my ramblings. If you haven’t read Wasted, do so now. It won the Read It or Else category of the Coventry Book Award after all.

My reading of Wasted was somewhat marred by an unfortunate (unlucky?) coincidence or was it meant to be :P My friend SpiderSam who died last month had a namesake in Wasted, Sam the father. And who are SpiderSam’s brothers? Jack and Tom. I thought it was funny the protag was Jack and txted Real Jack Cropley the things LuckyJack was up to while reading, including when he used the world’s best pick-up line: flip a coin and heads means he gets a kiss. RealJack txtd back,

“What a king”

When I met Sam the father I freaked out just a bit and considered throwing the book in the pond (the threatened destination for anything I can’t handle) within easy reach outside my bedroom window. Then came the band: Tommy and Ella. RealTom would never go by Tommy but I was past thinking rationally esp with Ella by Tommy’s side. OtherElla is not a Cropley sibling, she’s only as real as band Ella (I thought Ella wasn’t that common a name, unlike all the Cropley siblings’ names). OtherElla is the protag in a story I’m writing and after I met the band I have no idea how I kept reading, must be a good book or something.

When I got to the final chapters of Wasted and read I should flip a coin, I had a meltdown. I knew I was going to read both chapters – the point of the story and all. But I really couldn’t handle Jack dying. Two Jacks had morphed into one in my grieving brain and all I could think about was SpiderSam. Having never experienced grief, Jess got it wrong. Grief is never beautiful, it is always dark.

I collected a pile of coins and proceeded to flip them, forgetting the take home message on coin flipping probability. After flipping them all I remembered you flip enough coins, they come out half heads, half tails. Who would have thunk probabilities actually work!? I tried txting my friends “heads or tails?” They may have all been asleep (it was pretty late) or more likely sick of the random contextless crap I txt. Thus no one helped me out. The next day Mr Shaddow replied: Tails and proceeded to suggest Twitter – just the place for random contextless crap. I may even have joined up.

Back to the night I was reading, I had to choose for myself. I picked the coin with the most kangaroo tails, spun and landed Heads. Read the chapters in order, why didn’t I think of that an hour ago? see above for previously mentioned meltdown. As I read “Heads” I became convinced Jack died in both, somehow I managed to ignore that fear and read on. Nicola Morgan’s ability to make two opposite outcomes seem so similar in their conclusions is mesmerizing, but these similarities are superficial. I don’t know if it’s because I’m grieving for someone who died because of his pain, but “Tails” seemed like the worse option for all involved. Of course life is hard, if it weren’t full of difficulties, we wouldn’t appreciate the happiness and beauty we experience in between. Jack’s death eliminated the pain he’d been hiding behind his coin flipping. Without dying he had to confront that pain and overcome it.

“How impossibly untangleable is the tangle of what ifs”

After SpiderSam’s death I wondered for days what I could have done differently to change things. I realised nothing I or anyone else did could have changed the way things happened. This wasn’t a story where we could flip a coin, just as Wasted isn’t a story where flipping a coin makes a difference. Sam’s sister Jan and I talked about what ifs. She said he shouldn’t have gone back to Melbourne. I thought this in Oct/Nov last year when he was back in Perth for a month. I wanted to ask him why he was going back, but didn’t. What if… I know the answer to that what if, we would have argued and he would have gone back to Melbourne.

As I read Wasted I thought of those what ifs again. And was further reassured it was a choice Sam made which led to his death (although choice isn’t quite the right word). Not a choice he made that night, or during the previous week or in the 6 months he spent in Melbourne.

He made this choice years ago when a doctor diagnosed him with a mental illness and Sam said No. Sam didn’t want to be put in a box, labeled, stigmatized, as our society is so good at doing. Sam lived his life as himself, not as a doctor told him to. And when Sam said No, he wasn’t even making a choice, he was doing what he had to do to be himself. Agreeing with that doctor would have made him someone other than Sam.

It might be safe in a box, but there are no rainbows. Chasing the colours of rainbows was Sam’s reason for being. Every colour he painted leapt off the wall and into our imaginations.

“What he has lost is everything that hasn’t happened to him, everything that he is not, but might have been”

I’m using this quote from Wasted entirely out of context, but it serves my purpose. Now when Sam is light as air and memories, we can use our imagination to keep him with us, and finish all the things he had yet to do, all the things he lost: the walls he’d yet to paint, the pictures he’d yet to draw, the beers he’d yet to share and the smiles he’d yet to bestow. As we do these for him and keep him alive among us, we remember he would have done more than this for any of us.

“Sadness creeping from the shadows will get less and less until it crushes her no more than a petal might her breath.”

I rather like the cover of Wasted but this was somewhat tempered when I discovered that Deathwatch is similarly designed. I haven’t read Deathwatch so I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think it’s related to Wasted, so the designer may have just run out of ideas. Or I could be slandering the designer (and I don’t know who because Walker doesn’t name the designer on the book which sucks). I loved the cover font and the fonts of the chapter titles and page numbers. A different font inside is always nice. I’ve seen similar fonts but not in books. And rarely is a different font used for page numbers – good choice anonymous designer.