The Essence of Nathan Biddle
The Essence of Nathan Biddle begins around five years after the death of the eponymous Nathan, although the full circumstances surrounding his demise are not immediately clear. What is clear, however, is the significant impact that Nathan’s death has had, particularly for his cousin Kit Biddle. While Kit had shown remarkable promise as an honors student and track star, the wheels seem to have come off during his junior year. After spending his youth beset by tragedy and misfortune, Kit seems to be ending his high school career mired in existential angst.
Having been dropped from all his honors classes except for English and in danger of being cut from the track team, Kit spends most of his time either debating meaning and nothingness with best friend Lichtman or pining over the aloof Anna. He writes poetry and reads Nietzsche, but nothing brings him the answers he is seeking. While Kit loves Anna, she blows confusingly hot and cold, seeming to favor the two of them remaining just friends. And then there’s Sarah, the sister of Kit’s former friend/current nemesis, who seems to have liked him for years and who has now finally caught his eye. A great deal of pressure is building in Kit’s head, and it seems likely there’s a significant implosion on the way…
The story is told from Kit’s perspective and, while he’s a clear and interesting narrator, he’s not fully reliable. He forms strong and strongly fixed opinions about people in the way that teenagers are wont to do, but for all his reading and philosophizing, he’s not quite as perceptive as he thinks. For Kit, the world revolves around him and his tragedies, and that perspective means he often misses what is right in front of him. The Essence of Nathan Biddle isn’t a story of heroes and villains; rather, it’s a story of the flaws that plague average people and the corrosive nature of secrets. Things that are important and meaningful for Kit are side notes for other people, but despite what he thinks, there are people looking out for him.
The principal secondary character in the book is Nathan Biddle, although by necessity he remains a phantom. He seems to have been an almost otherworldly character when alive, and in death he appears to be something of a watching/guiding presence for Kit. Everyone knows what happened to Kit’s cousin, but Kit himself only reveals what he knows toward the end of the book. There’s not exactly a mystery to be solved, but there are puzzles to be unraveled concerning Nathan’s death, Kit’s past, and the link between them. Ultimately, The Essence of Nathan Biddle is an impactful coming-of-age story about Kit Biddle’s experiences as he morphs from a youth who is heavily influenced by others into an adult who is responsible for his own destiny.
|Author||J. William Lewis|
|Page Count||440 pages|
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