Kill Me Now
By Timmy Reed
Counterpoint Press, 2018
240 pages, $26.00
Reviewed by Jeff Gilliland
Miles Lover knows Baltimore like the back of his hand. The fourteen-year-old narrator and protagonist of Timmy Reed’s Kill Me Now, out now from Counterpoint Press, spends much of his time skateboarding from neighborhood to neighborhood, imbuing each one with his sense of its history and meaning. His father lives in Homeland, his mother in Roland Park, his peers in other housing developments scattered around the city. He hangs out in Towson, skates in Pigtown, drops fish heads through open car windows in Fells Point. No matter where he goes, though, he never seems to fit in.
At its core, Kill Me Now is an exploration of liminal spaces in life and the world. Written as a series of diary entries, the novel follows Miles through the summer before his freshman year of high school. Between practicing kickflips, lusting after girls, and smoking copious weed, he attempts to navigate the gray areas of adolescence, divorce, and society. He meanders from his mom’s house to his dad’s, burying his pain in nature TV shows as he slowly coming to grips with his new reality. He follows the cool kids to parties, then drinks on his own; battles his twin younger sisters but stands up for them when it matters; wishes he had a blood brother, but mercilessly bullies the one boy who seeks him out. Like many adolescents, Miles strives to be someone and somewhere he is not.
Two telling scenes define the arc of Miles’ journey. Early in the novel, he goes out hunting crayfish with his white friends Gary and John. Suddenly, “we noticed this crew of black boys in the semi-distance. They were definitely headed up to the lakes, a couple of them on bikes that looked stolen because they were way too small.” Gary and John immediately tense up, Gary utters a slur, and the two high-tail it out of there. Miles rages at his friends’ blatant racism—“It’s like they’re brainwashed or something,” he writes later—then dutifully follows right behind them. By summer’s end, however, Miles finds himself in the waiting room of a veterinarian’s office, sitting with an old man and a woman he barely knows as they learn that her boa constrictor is dying. “I wasn’t sure what purpose I could serve, but I felt like I was supposed to be there,” he writes. Through these interracial, intergenerational, and even interspecies cohorts, Miles begins to find a sense of belonging.
Through evocative imagery, strong characterizations, and moments of true tenderness, Reed pieces together a portrait of Miles that resonates with the experience of adolescence. Outwardly hard-hearted and cynical, Miles reveals himself through his diary to be kind and philosophical, confused and deeply self-deprecating. Though he may not always be easy to like, Miles ultimately proves to be quite hard not to love.
Kill Me Now’s dedication reads, “To Baltimore and adolescence: Best wishes. Love, Timmy.” That in itself may provide the best possible snapshot of the novel: an ambivalent love letter to his hometown, from an author reminiscing about his youth.
Reed writes as an adolescent—effectively employing “like”s and “fuck”s to capture Millennial speech patterns, and overusing ALL-CAPS to express Miles’ hormone-fueled emotions— which at times feels excessively intent on convincing the reader that Miles is really the one speaking. Would a teenage boy narrate an entire meal moment-by-moment, including describing a melting carton of sherbet as “pink saccharine sludge”? Would one summer’s diary trace themes of time and memory so markedly, or set up such clear ties between the loneliness of the “snizard” (snake-lizard) and the outcast diarist himself?
Miles seems in many ways to be Timmy Reed transposed into the 21st century—heck, the kid on the front cover even looks like a young Reed—only with an adult’s introspection and perspicacity. This makes Kill Me Now an excellent primer on being a teenage boy and a compelling, often scathingly satirical exploration of race and class in Baltimore. Reed set before himself the difficult task of writing a meaningful novel that is also an unadulterated stream of teenage consciousness; and though he achieves the former, we never quite forget that this is still his story.