John Sissons is a working class kid growing up in London’s East End during the mid 1970s. His family doesn’t have a lot, but they do have tremendous love for each other and an undying passion for football (that’s soccer for the American crowd).
Kenny Montgomery is the strange kid who lives across the street. Overweight, socially awkward, and uncommunicative to the point one could mistake him for mute, it seems to be Kenny’s lot in life to be the butt of jokes and target of bullies.
Turns out Kenny’s abuse doesn’t end when he gets home from school. As John learns firsthand one frightening afternoon when he stops in for tea, both Kenny and his mum are the victims of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Kenny’s alcoholic father.
A good kid at heart, John takes Kenny under his wing and the two form an unlikely friendship, one that grows for several years until their lives are irrevocably changed by two outbursts of violence.
The first finds all the pain Kenny has suffered and repressed throughout his life erupting in spectacular fashion, while the second results when John, now a dropout, and some friends plan a holdup that goes decidedly sideways. The fallout from those events sends John and Kenny down separate paths in life for the better part of a decade. When they’re finally reunited they discover that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Written from John’s point of view and in the rough-edged vernacular of London’s East End, Abide With Me is as immersive and atmospheric as a novel can get. There’s nothing pretty or sugarcoated about the lives John and Kenny lead, and therein is actually where the true beauty of Abide With Me lies. Author Ian Ayris has an uncanny talent for exquisitely expressing and bringing to life the type of small details and everyday triumphs and tragedies that define our lives. Be it John and his father sharing the joy of their favorite football club’s success or Kenny finding solace in staring at the streetlight outside his window at night, Ayris realizes it’s the little things in life that ultimately make the biggest difference.
And while the plot of Abide With Me is fiction, Ayris has said that the setting and many of the memories and emotions were indeed mined from his own life. That willingness of Ayris to tap directly into his own childhood hopes and dreams, pain and confusion gives John’s voice a clarity and rawness that rings undeniably true. This boy, and later young man, is as real as any person you’ll ever meet. More so, actually, as Ayris takes us into the darkest corners of John’s mind, allowing the reader to share and experience every triumph and humiliation, every ambition and sacrifice in a way one rarely, if ever, gets to share with another person in reality.
That Abide With Me is a debut novel is, quite frankly, stunning. Ayris brings a depth and level of emotion to his writing that most authors strive their entire career to achieve, and which many never do. Never is that more apparent than in the ending Ayris crafts for John and Kenny, one so powerful, poignant, and heartbreaking it actually brought tears to my eyes. If there is even a shred of justice in this world Abide With Me will garner the kind of widespread attention it so richly deserves.
Abide with Me is available from Caffeine Nights Publishing (ISBN: 978-1907565120).
And be sure to read Ian’s guest post, “Searching for the Heartbreaker.”