Family drama is quite endearing if the narration is woven seamlessly. When told from a first-person perspective, such an intimate account is easily engaging as it feeds into our penchant for hearing about tribulations in other people’s lives. 106 Elm Avenue is an earnest such effort, but it doesn’t quite hold up against the world’s pool of similarly themed work.
Kevin Hallquist tells of his childhood on 106 Elm Avenue, where they lived as a family in what can be described as a typical Bogotan neighborhood. That neighborhood is relevant particularly for how the author and his two siblings—tagged in the story as “the boys”—navigated their young lives under tension-filled parenting, with Mom constantly nagging them about how things are done and reminding them to not grow up like Dad. How Hallquist transitioned into his narration from the opening chapter and the first few succeeding chapters set a promising tone. Early in the storytelling, he detailed a compelling picture of his past, but those early parts pretty much gave away what little mystery 106 Elm Avenue could muster. What followed was a hodgepodge of key events and experiences that, from a distance, look like puzzle pieces in a disarray.
Each chapter stood out as a self-evident recollection picked out for its emotional impact. This kind of narration, however, is a tough terrain that many readers will find challenging to navigate. Perhaps this challenge—and the pointed characterization of important players in the story, thanks to the power of simple words—is what would make readers stick it out, but they must be raving fans of typical family melodrama and childhood pain. Even then, after immersing in 106 Elm Avenue, they may be left doing three things: pity “the boys,” resent Mom and Dad, or reflect on their own past and how the story, in whole or in part, fits in it.