My choice for Opposites Attract Week is the novel, Vivaldi in the Dark by Matthew J. Metzger. At first glance it may seem that our two lead characters, Jayden and Darren, are not really what one might readily define as opposites but, in fact, that could not be further from the truth. These two young men are remarkably different, both in their approach to life, in general, and in other very definite ways. Before I highlight that, let me talk a bit about this stunning novel.
Jayden is a writer, penning scripts for his mother’s local drama group and preparing for what he hopes will be a full scholarship to a private boys school where he can finally breathe and be himself. While Jayden is definitely out to his friends at school, it comes with a heavy price—one of constant bullying that has escalated more than once into violence against him. Twice a week he escapes to the local theater where he watches his mother and her friends perform the plays he writes for them. On one such day, he hears music—coming from a closet.
Darren plays the violin—beautifully. He is gifted for sure, but, if asked, also states rather flatly that he hates it—especially when he must play Vivaldi. On his worst days he stays behind after orchestra rehearsal and drives himself unmercifully—sitting in a closet back stage—in the dark, running through the hated compositions. It is almost a form of self-inflicted punishment that he, himself, doesn’t understand. When the door is rather forcefully opened one day, Darren finds himself pushing the intruder away and before he knows it, looking into the eyes of the most wonderful boy he has ever seen. But Darren carries a dark, ugly secret that threatens to bury him over and over and that he is sure will make Jayden run far from him—which is a shame, for this is the boy he likes so very much.
As Vivaldi in the Dark unfolds, we watch as a scared and bullied Jayden transforms into a confident and wiser young man. Darren, who has always appeared so sure of himself, so steady, reveals the darker side he hides—his deep depression that threatens to be his undoing. Early on in the story, Darren forces himself to reveal his suicide attempts, his self-harming, and his depressive states to Jayden, so very sure that this will end what Darren so desperately wants—a relationship with Jayden. Despite his misgivings and fears, Jayden cannot turn away from Darren and so begins a journey where both boys emerge from very different closets and step into the light.
The mastery with which author Matthew J. Metzger reveals Darren’s demons—the gripping depression and fugue states that he endures, the desperate need just to feel anything that leads to his self-harming, is absolutely breath taking to read. You feel every bleak and harrowing moment that Darren experiences when in the throes of a downward spiral. You understand Jayden’s fears and panic when he realizes how little he can do to help the boy he is falling in love with who he comes so close to losing every time the darkness overtakes him.
Cleverly, Metzger flips the equation between these two boys—at first, it is Darren who seems so supremely confident, unfazed by confronting Jayden’s bullies, while Jayden cowers from them, nervous that Darren’s bravado will only make things worse for him at school. But when the author reveals Darren’s secret battle with a depression so severe that it literally paralyzes him, we watch as the timid Jayden morphs into a stronger, more determined person who refuses to give up on the boy whose illness scares him so much. The transformation that takes place, revealing how each boy gradually becomes the opposite of what he initially appeared to be, is staggering. And through it all their attraction for each other grows and grows.
This novel was amazing. The delicate and yet unflinching way in which it exposed teenage depression and it’s effects was truly mesmerizing. The characters the author created were so incredibly flawed and yet so gorgeously alive and fully realized that they seemed to resonate off the page and into reality before your eyes. I cannot say enough about this novel—it is just that good.
Vivaldi in the Dark by Matthew J. Metzger challenges everything you think you know about how a person can survive their own personal demons and reach beyond them to embrace life when everything seems stacked against them. It is a tale of survival, strength and love and I highly recommend it to you.