This is a book report I had done a few years ago on How All This Started by Pete Fromm.
The novel, How All This Started, is told in the first-person point of view from the protagonist’s, Austin Scheer’s, perspective. One of the main characters in the novel, Abilene, acts as both one of the protagonists and as the main antagonist in the novel. The plot of How All This Started is complex because the events that happen in the novel aren’t sequential and the events seem random and not concrete.
Austin Scheer is the baseball-loving, obedient brother to his bipolar sister, Abilene. At first the family thought Abilene was going through a rebellious stage, but after coming back from a random, two-week disappearance, Abilene is hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The family suffers because of Abilene’s disorder; Abilene can’t control her mood swings, she becomes violent and eccentric, and she frequently runs away from home. Austin tries to fulfill his dream of becoming a famous pitcher while she’s gone. Abilene eventually comes back to her family to help coach Austin because she was once a pitching prodigy (she couldn’t become professional because of sexism, however). Austin’s parents try to convince him that Abilene needs help, and eventually they all try to intercede. Even after trying to help, the Scheer family witness as Abilene ends up getting pregnant, having an abortion, and getting her tubes tied, and she tries to commit suicide. After seriously considering her options, Abilene decides to succumb to her family’s wishes and goes into rehab. The novel ends with Abilene and Austin going their separate ways in life; Abilene to college for education and getting clean, and Austin to college for baseball and starting his career.
POINT OF VIEW/PERSPECTIVE
The novel is told in first-person in the protagonist’s (Austin Scheer) perspective. Austin tells the events that happen in the story pretty bluntly, but expands on how he feels or how he thinks other people feels by talking about his thoughts. For example, on page 50, Austin describes his ball game with him and his dad:
“’What we play is real!’ I hissed, whipping out a snapping curve, suddenly wanting to hurt him, at least shock him. The old ball broke hard, too fast for Dad, who didn’t block it with his body either. But dad just gave me a look, one I could see him force his smile through. ‘Always more of a hitter than a fielder,’ he said, then turned and went after the ball. I watched him trot off into the desert, then spun around and went inside.” (p. 50)
The author tends to not elaborate on actions in the novel, and instead offers commentary on how the main character perceives the things that are going on around him. In the example shown above, the author tells about what Austin and his dad are doing and then provides the description of how powerful Austin throws the ball by adding the thought, “suddenly wanting to hurt him, at least shock him”. The description shows with how much force Austin threw the ball, so it can be assumed that the ball he threw was a powerful fastball.
Austin’s first-person perspective used in the novel is an effective way to tell the story because it provides a sort of “bystander” perspective. Since the story is mostly about Austin and his family dealing with Abilene’s bipolar disorder, the thoughts that are shown through Austin are thoughts of a person who is watching someone else do an action, rather than doing it themselves. Austin’s commentary is usually about how he feels about Abilene or what he thinks Abilene is thinking. This is portrayed on page 197, after Abilene smashes her father’s nose during a seemingly ‘wild pitch’:
“I pinched my mitt tight to my side. ‘No,’ I whispered. I walked straight across the drive, picking the baseball from the rock where Dad had left it lying. It had one deep, new scuff on it, from digging into the rock before hitting him. The smash into his nose had been too quick to leave any blood. ‘Come on Austin,’ Abilene sighed, calling me back. ‘We better go check on Dad. Mom’s probably already called out the Guard-‘Help us! Help us! She’s gone crazy! She’s trying to kill us all with a baseball!’’ Abilene cried in a trembling falsetto I’d never heard from her before, a perfect imitation of Mom at her scared worst.’
In the above example, Austin gives a description about everything that happened. He is conflicted or agitated by the way he “pinched [his] mitt tight to [his] side” and he is worried or surprised at the “trembling falsetto [he’d] never heard from her before” that Abilene imitates of their mom.
The “bystander” perspective also implies that the character in which the story is being told (Austin) is a person who tends to not speak up much because he likes to watch what is going around him. He admits on page 9 that he has started off high school under the rocks because Abilene told him to:
“…Abilene had redshirted me last year…appearing out of nowhere, she always said, we’d take the world by storm…I’d slunk through school without hardly saying a word, without making a friend, just going through my classes, not even playing a game of catch.”
The above example is evidence that Austin’s personality is that of a shy, standing-in-the-corner bystander.
I believe that there are two protagonists in the novel. The first and main protagonist in the novel (from whose viewpoint is in which the story is told) is Austin Scheer. He is portrayed as the dutifully obedient younger brother to his sister, Abilene. He is also seen as a fantastic, dedicated pitcher (whose talent was introduced and established by none other than his sister, Abilene). For the most part, Austin’s personality is that of confused service dog. He is the obedient, loving, pushover and a follower of everything his sister wants him to do. He is also conflicted, confused, and misunderstanding of his sister because he doesn’t know at first how to react to the news that his beloved sister is bipolar and messed up in the head. Austin’s personality is prevalently shown through his thoughts and what he says in the novel. The example used before about Abilene redhshirting Austin and making him not be friends with anyone (on page 9) clearly shows how obedient he is to his sister. On pages 125-126, Austin shows how confused and conflicted he is when it comes to his sister’s condition:
“’Ab’lene told me all about your diagnosis,’ [I said]. ‘It’s a disease, Austin. Like diabetes…It’s not something Abilene chose. It’s not something any of you caused. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s a disease,’ [she said]. ‘There’s nothing wrong with Ab’lene,’ [I said].”
The above example shows how Austin is in denial about Abilene’s disease. He refuses to believe that there is anything wrong with Abilene because he cares so much about her. He knows that Abilene is clearly not like anybody else he knows, but since she has had such a big effect on his life, he can’t seem to be convinced about the fact that there is something wrong with Abilene.
I think that Abilene is the other protagonist in the novel because so much of the story is about her and how her family deals with her illness. Abilene is an attractive, intelligent, rebellious, emotional 21-year-old. She is also bipolar and therefore she is also eccentric, demanding, irresponsible, powerful, misunderstood, internally conflicted, and is even sometimes violent. Abilene’s personality is showed in third-person from Austin’s perspective. Her intelligence and some of her irresponsibleness is shown on page 8:
“…she wrapped up school in a blaze of credits, graduating a year eary, talking of nothing but getting out of here. But then she was back again after only three months of junior college.”
Another example of her irresponsible nature is on pages 54-56 when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant:
“’What mom? What am I going to do? This wasn’t supposed to happen to me,’ [she said]…’For God’s sake,’ Abilene blurted, almost a laugh. ‘Half the time I didn’t know where I was, let alone who I was with. Anybody who could keep up with me. That was my daunting criterion. There wasn’t anybody who could do it for long, but I could always find somebody fresh for extra innings.’”
An example of Abilene’s violent, powerful, demanding nature is shown on page 108 when she explodes into fury during Austin’s first high school game in baseball:
“’You needled-dicked cocksucker!’ she shouted. ‘You weren’t fit to hand me a baseball, let alone take one away from him!’…’Touch him and I’ll kill you!’ Abilene screamed, the men behind her moving in…I heard one say, ‘It’s only a game’ before Abilene whirled around, swinging punches.’”
The story takes place primarily in Pecos, Texas. The time/date in which the novel takes place in isn’t mentioned in the novel. The author of the novel mentioned in an interview that he chose to have the setting in a more isolated part of Texas because he wanted to focus solely on the characters in the novel and their internal struggles and not on the interactions of the Scheer family with other characters in the novel. Pecos, Texas is a town that has a desert climate and his home to ‘northers’ or cold, windy (not common, but) rainy storms. Northers are significant in the novel because one of Austin and Abilene’s favorite activities to do together is feel the cold and the wind from a norther and the presence of northers tie the beginning of the novel to the end of the novel. A lot of the events that happen in the novel occur in the Scheers’ house, Pecos High, and the Rattlesnake Bomber Base, which are all located in Pecos. Another place where some events take place is Midland, Texas, where Abilene and her mother travel to in order to receive therapy and her lithium pills.
The Scheers’ house is where the Scheers live. A lot of events happen in the Scheer house, such as the multitude of ball games that Austin and his father have during Abilene’s absence, and the event where Abilene goes into lithium, bipolar lockdown (before going away to live by herself).
Pecos High is where Abilene used to attend high school and where Austin goes to school presently. Abilene excelled in school at Pecos High, and tried out for the boys’ baseball team. She made the team because she was one of the best pitchers Coach Thurston ever saw, but she never played a game and the other players shunned her because she was a girl. Austin tries out for the baseball team in Pecos High, and he makes the cut and is allowed to pitch in the very first game of the season. He quits after his first game (because Abilene told him to) but eventually re-joins the team later on.
Rattlesnake Bomber Base is where Austin and Abilene go to practice their skills in baseball. They play baseball with a few wooden planks as plates, a B-29 tire as a bat, and a box of used baseballs. When Abilene leaves, Austin continues to practice his baseball at the Rattlesnake Bomber Base.
Theme: Families can pull together and conquer even through very tough times.
Pete Fromm wrote about this theme by telling the story of a discombobulated family and how they struggle for a better life. Abilene’s illness greatly affects the family because she often goes out on her own with suicidal or manic thoughts and she constantly needs to be watched for her own good. There isn’t really a specific example of the theme, but there is a “bigger-pictured” version of the theme in the novel that is over the span of about 100 pages:
“‘…But Abilene, it’s for your own good. We’re so worried about you.’ [Mom said]. Abilene laughed like crazy at that. Then there was a loud slap, Abilene bringing her ands down hard and flat on the table. ‘No, it is not for my own good.’ Mom sucked in a startled breath…” (219-220).
“‘Abby,’ Mom started, and I heard a whack. Though I’d never heard it before, I knew right away it was the sound of a hand against face…there was more shouting then, not words, just shouts, and in a second Dad staggered out of the bedroom with Abilene pinched in his giant arms…” (225).
“‘What?’ I shouted. But Dad just kept staring right through me…‘Whole different game, isn’t it?’ he snapped…‘You ever pull another stunt like that with your mother, there won’t be mitts and balls.’ He shook me once, hard. ‘Do you understand?’…I said, ‘She is so fucked-up Dad.’ Dad whirled, leaping down the steps. I staggered backward into the dark. ‘Abilene! Abilene! Not Mom!’ Dad stopped. He couldn’t see me behind all the headlights. ‘She’s sick. Abilene is not fucked-up. She’s sick.’ (240-241)
“’She’s not missing anymore.’ Dad reached out, snagging my hand, pulling back, but not like before, gentle this time, letting me stay out at arm’s length, keeping my hand in his, but not just to capture me…’You’ve got to be easy with her. As hard as this is on us, it’s worse for her…Just don’t push her. Let her find her own way back.” (245).
“‘There are things I want to forget, Austin. But, believe me, you are not one of them. And I’m not pulling a Dad on you, either. I’m not going to lock up everything that came before now. I’m not making that mistake. There is no way my How All This Started is going to by my lithium prescription.’ I brushed my fingers across my shirt, my tattoo. “What am I going to do with mine now?’ Abilene flashed a smile. She slapped her hand against my chest. ‘Live up to it.’” (304)
So in the above examples, the family clearly goes through a lot of emotional turmoil with each other, but eventually learn to grow and develop out of their problems. A universal theme that probably relates to the theme shown in the novel is the theme that, “Love conquers all”. This universal theme is shown through Abilene and Austin’s loyal and pure relationship with each other and the way the family even though they have every reason to stay stressed and separated, come together and create something bigger for themselves.
The title to “How All This Started” is actually explained in the novel:
“How All This Started was Dad’s favorite story – about our names, Abilene’s and mine. Not where we were born, but where we were conceived. ‘How all this started!’ he’d always say, waving his arms around like he had a kingdom to show off. He’d tell the story at the slightest excyse, to anybody who asked, and some who didn’t. ‘We were newlyweds, you know, and we were only in Abilene for the night!’”
The story of How All This Started in the novel is like a cynical joke that kind of bothers Abilene and Austin, as shown:
“’…And have to listen to a whole new installment of How All This Started? ‘And then there was the night outside Pecos! We were old, you know, and we’re not sure how it happened but…Have a little kid running around named Pecos?’ I tried. ‘Yeah I suppose,’ Abilene said. ‘But this would’ve been more like How All This Stopped.’” (58)
“’…Mom and Dad could have done it in Lubbock. That would have been worse What id that’s how all this started? Your name would be Lubbock. Lubby. Lubbs. Or what about Amarillo? Balmorhea?’ She cracked the smallest smile I’d ever seen. ‘Wacko’ [she said]. I laughed too loud. ‘Hey Waco,’ I said, saying it right, ‘please come out and play-o.’” (61)
The story of How All This Started eventually becomes pretty prevalent in Austin and Abilene’s unhappiness, as shown on:
“’…their lives before all this started…It’s pathetic!…Take a look around! How what all started? This is it. The two of them and their happy, little lives shriveled up and vanished for a goddamned patch of empty desert! A lunatic daughter! Me!’” (126-127)
“’There are things I want to forget, Austin. But, believe me, you are not one of them. And I’m not pulling a Dad on you, either. I’m not going to lock up everything that came before now. I’m not making that mistake. There is no way my How All This Started is going to by my lithium prescription.’” (304).
I think that the title, “How All This Started”, might also be a spin-off of the common phrase, “How did this happen?” I think that the title is a spin-off on the phrase because if I was one of the main characters in the novel dealing with all of the stuff they have to, I would probably ask, “How did this happen/Why is this happening to me?”
“How All This Started” had many good aspects about it, and a lot of bad aspects. Personally, I don’t think that the plot of the novel flowed together that well. The events that occurred in the book are very sporadic, and I think that it was pretty difficult trying to sum up the plot when the plot itself changed every single chapter.
The descriptions of the characters and the events that happened in the novel weren’t as well-developed as I hoped. The descriptions got the point across, but I feel as if there was too little “emotion” or “personality” when it came to describing people, events, or places in the novel. The sentences that did describe what was going on in the novel were mostly short sentences and didn’t have many adjectives to emphasize what the things look like, so I had a hard time visualizing what I was reading.
Lastly, some of the themes and the ideal audience that the novel is reaching out to only reaches out to a specific audience. One of the themes of the novel has to do with sports and baseball, and I wasn’t quite familiar with anything that had to with sports or baseball terminology. I think that the audience that the novel would reach the best would be a mostly-male or baseball-loving audience from the ages of 18-35. I don’t think that female audiences who don’t enjoy baseball or sports would enjoy this novel because it has a lot of baseball terminology and events. I think that a 18-35 male who likes baseball will enjoy this novel because 18-35 is around the age where a male would be old enough to be interested enough in novel, but not too old to where the topic and the style of the novel would be too immature for them.