Grant is divorced from his wife and, after six months, he still hasn’t found his footing, not that the ground was firm beneath him when he was married. Grant sort of coasted through life not ever really finding his passion and now Grant finds himself jobless and homeless. He seeks shelter in a camping ground of his own making near Oliver’s house and, while Grant is attracted to Oliver, he also stands on all of Grant’s nerves at the same time.
Oliver is considered the eccentric artist by the local townspeople. His eclectic home in the woods is filled with possessions that make up his life and the flags at his mailbox alert locals to whether he is receiving visitors. Oliver keeps his life pulled in tight, not letting anyone get too close, except Freddie, Oliver’s friend with benefits for the last 17 years. As Oliver sets out to help Grant move forward, Grant may shake Oliver’s foundation as well and give Oliver more than he knew he wanted out of life.
I had a lot of issues with The Infinite Onion, and mostly I wanted to either put this book down unfinished or just get it over with. A key element in a book is liking at least one of the characters, and I didn’t much care for Grant or Oliver or the people they surrounded themselves with. While I liked the idea of Oliver and his eccentric home in the woods, there were too many issues with his behavior and then the outcome of his story.
Oliver lives in a home filled with generations of belongings and creates art that no one sees. He plays at being a “therapist” to “friends” that visit him and they pay him in trade. Oliver has no training as a therapist that we are told, and he goes further than just being someone to talk to for these people and the whole thing of it sat wrong with me. Also, these people that claim to be Oliver’s friends, some of whom have known him for decades, do not care to know anything about Oliver and overlook the mess that he truly is and the help that he truly needs. Oliver also has a friend with benefits, Freddie, and the two of them have been hooking up for about 17 years, and Oliver tries to make himself want a future with Freddie. Freddie hung around the entire book and was just one more toxic piece in the world of Oliver and we haven’t even gotten to Grant yet.
Grant found himself homeless and living in the woods. Oliver decides he is going to help Grant and gives him tasks to do each week. There is some menial labor, as well as assignments that Oliver declares are designed to put Grant on a better path. These assignments consist of creating self-portraits and journaling—and I don’t even have enough time to get into all of that further. In exchange for this, Oliver will give Grant access to a house amenity: food, a cooking area, laundry facilities. Oliver has no idea what Grant has been through, has no way of knowing what he needs, and he makes Grant suffer first. Grant has barely any food and is so dirty he is described as scratching his skin off, yet Oliver thinks Grant needs to journal or whatever before he is allowed use of the outdoor shower. Oliver also goes off on these fantasy stories in his mind and at first it was difficult to figure out if they were dreams or memories or a break in mental health.
The local kids who are described as “tweens” then find Grant. These kids are unsupervised in the woods with a strange man, and while I as a reader was given the knowledge that Grant wasn’t going to hurt these kids, it did not work for me. Grant is then able to “help” these kids by listening to them and while absolutely they need someone to listen to them, they also needed a plan.
The relationship between Oliver and Grant is built on secrets and lies. When they come together, it’s volatile and their issues are not addressed, not solved, and there is no plan in place. Oliver has serious, deep-rooted issues that were completely brushed aside and the way the mental health issues in this book were treated or rather left untreated was difficult to witness.
To come full circle to the title, the comparison that people are like onions with their layers has been done too many times for my liking and didn’t add anything to an already troubling story. Each reader can have their own interpretation of a book and there were too many glaring issues here for me to make this story palatable.