- By Barry Lyga
- Blackstone Publishing
- 350 pp.
- Reviewed by Emma Carbone
- January 3, 2023
A clever though largely unsatisfying meta tale.
As its title suggests, Edited is a pared-down version of another story — a story about Mike. And a story about Mike and Phil (Philomel). As author Barry Lyga explains in an opening note: “This story you’re about to read is actually a partial version or an iteration, pieces of a larger whole, stitched together to cover the surgical trauma. You can read it on its own or as the companion to a grander, more epic work — and I’ve provided you the tools to do so, embedded in the text itself.”
The novel begins as Mike realizes he can edit reality, leading to fundamental changes in the world that only he perceives: like altering the color of his now-ex-girlfriend Phil’s party dress from red to blue (the latter of which better complements her naturally teal hair). The discovery of this ability sends Mike and Phil through a series of world-shifting changes to their lives and to their relationship with each other and reality.
Lyga inserts himself into the tale as a quasi-character, sharing notes on his creative process and authorial choices both in the main narrative and in footnotes referencing Unedited — the 794-page companion to Edited — where readers can find, among other things, “a deeper dive into [Mike’s best friend] George’s miserable childhood,” which is given only a brief paragraph in Edited.
This is a high-concept work with a hook that will appeal to fans of meta-narratives in the vein of the films “Stranger than Fiction” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” In Mike’s world, YA literature is known as “nonadult,” and George loves the author Gayl Rybar (an acronym for Barry Lyga), which creates many tongue-in-cheek moments that don’t quite coalesce into meaningful world-building or in-depth characterizations. Rather, the narrative voice is oddly impersonal, as in Mike’s dissection of his bond with George:
“All of this leads me to believe and to understand that a best friend is perhaps best defined as someone whose upbringing sucked vastly more than your own…and yet steadfastly contends that your upbringing was just as bad, if not worse.”
Clinical observations such as this lend themselves to provocative realizations from Mike (“By this particular logic George is my best friend, but I can never be his”) and interesting quandaries, but rarely do they lead to a meaningful impact on readers or the story.
Phil, the only female character of note, comes with another set of programs. For most of the book, she serves as an object of Mike’s pining instead of a fully developed character in her own right. Lyga notes this himself — Phil comes across as “paper-thin, a caricature more than a character” in the only chapter she narrates — breaking the fourth wall to discuss the “Creator’s advantage” of the author and the multitudinous nature of characters who can be both good and bad.
What Mike experiences throughout Edited is “as simple and as complex as ink on paper.” What readers will experience in this self-referential, process-driven story where creativity trumps everything remains to be seen.
Emma Carbone is a librarian and reviewer. She has been blogging about books since 2007.