Carus & Mitch by Tim Major
Reviewed by Kristin Luna
E-book, ISBN: 0692343377
Omnium Gatherum, February 23, 2015 -– 88 pages. Also available in paperback.
Like the life and college, the novella Carus & Mitch will leave you with more questions than answers. But the question you’ll replay over and over in your mind, the question that will keep you up at night will be, “Oh Carus, what have you done?”
Fifteen-year-old Carus and seven-year-old Mitch have been barricaded in their house for most of their lives. Just before the world-wide collapse, their mother had moved them to their uncle’s house in the countryside of northern Britain, and it’s been their home ever since. But when their mother died, the responsibility of staying safe from outside dangers fell directly on them, and with crushing weight.
Carus’ job is to take care of Mitch. She tries to fill the shoes of their mother, doing the best she can to set a routine: check on the chickens (which moved into the dinning room because they weren’t safe outside), clean the house, trade chickens and eggs with Jom, and check the barricades.
The only person left in the world that they know of is Jom, with whom they trade eggs for canned goods. They’ve never seen Jom, but must set eggs outside their house’s strongholds in order to receive their daily food. When Carus oversleeps one morning due to severe tiredness and headaches, she wakes to realize they’ve missed leaving eggs out for Jom, meaning no food for the day. Determined to never let it happen again, Carus becomes militant about following the rules they’ve created, which in turn makes Mitch more defiant. Mitch wonders why they can’t go outside, why they came to the country in the first place, and Carus can’t seem to answer any of her questions with clarity. In fact, Carus starts losing time, waking up in places she doesn’t remember falling asleep, and becoming more angry each day with her younger sister.
And then, one night, Mitch disappears. Carus falls deeper into her psychosis, revealing hints to the real threat that has kept the sisters trapped in the house nearly all their lives.
Tim Major tells Carus & Mitch through Carus, and as with all 15-year-olds, she’s a somewhat unreliable narrator. Grim, bleak storytelling, paired with simmering tension strikes the same haunting chord as Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, and the overall tone is reminiscent of Room by Emma Donoghue and Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.”
Tim Major’s love for speculative fiction and the book We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson influenced him to write Carus & Mitch. Tim enjoys writing stories about the effects of extraordinary events on ordinary people. His short stories have appeared in various science fiction and fantasy magazines, and Carus & Mitch is his first published novella. Tim lives in Oxford with his wife and son.
As with all art, there’s a large degree of subjectivity in determining if it’s “good,” or “not good.” The best I can do is share my thoughts and opinions, and rate this book on an arbitrary on a scale of Daniel Day-Lewis films. Aha! This is a trick scale, because there is no “worst” Daniel Day-Lewis film, as they are all the best. Like an undoubtedly great Daniel Day-Lewis film, Carus & Mitch contains true craft and substance. The richness and depth of the characters may keep you up at night thinking about them, wondering what they’re doing now. You’ll speculate and contemplate the truth, knowing that you’ve only just glanced the tip of the iceberg, while much more lurks just under the surface. You’ll finish this novella and immediately start it over again, desperately piecing together the clues. Carus & Mitch will haunt you and leave you strangely wanting more.
Interesting fact: “Carus” and “Mitch” are not their real names.
“Is air made from bits of flower?” [Mitch]
“It’s made of lots of things.” [Carus]
She turns. “Like what?”
I try to remember lessons at school. “Oxygen, that’s what your body uses to stay alive. And there’s the bits of flowers and other things, but really, really tiny.” I pause. “And then, um, neon and carbon.”