Reviewed by Katya Cummins
Readers meet the narrator, a gay teenager named Theo Williamson at a tricky stage in his life. Like most teenagers, Theo is rebellious, confused, and finds that growing up is anything but simple. Though a reader’s knee-jerk reaction might be to project all the reasons for Theo’s teenage angst onto his sexuality, Theo refuses to be defined by his sexual orientation alone. Being gay and coping with sex and love are reasons in the line of several why Theo is emotionally conflicted. He lost his mother at an early age, his father was severely injured in a car accident, and his stepmother, Della, has been too preoccupied nursing his father to even remember his birthday.
However, Della isn’t as oblivious as Theo leads readers to believe. She is aware that Theo is gay and suspects something happened between him and Matt, a young professor. Every time Della attempts to connect with Theo—even admitting that she is in “unfamiliar territory”—Theo shies away. He feels that Della sees him as a “specimen” and understands him within the context of books about homosexuality she has taken to reading. Knight so skillfully employs first-person present tense that the readers are able to see beyond Theo’s anger to the truth he suppresses: He resists Della’s help because he doesn’t want her to assume a motherly role.
Knight’s ability to construct such compelling characters is what allows her readers to feel conflicted towards them. It is difficult not to grow impatient when Theo shows ambivalence towards his parents’ support and seeks out the misguided support of his gay friend, Jonathan, instead. Even though Jonathan is as naive about how to deal with life as Theo, his anger is easier to sympathize with. Unlike Theo, Jonathan is not fortunate enough to have parents who are willing to traverse unfamiliar territory.
His mother is unaware he’s gay, his father is abusive, and his older brother has already left home. Jonathan deals with his home life by falling into sexual liaisons with older men. He flaunts these sexual experiences to keep Theo at a distance—too afraid to accept the genuine love that Theo wants to give him. Though unrequited love defines a large portion of Theo and Jonathan’s relationship, it’s really the distances that they create that unite them as they struggle to make sense their thorny lives.
Three Cubic Feet is a quick-paced and emotionally jam-packed novella that looks unflinchingly at distances love creates. Knight’s characters’ contradictory emotions make them instantly relatable. Though the subject matter is heavy, the writing is refreshing, easy and unassuming, not once wandering into the cliché or over dramatic. The personalities of Knight’s teenagers are so dead on that they leap off the page and straight into the imagination. Their lives are sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who reads this book.
This review was originally published on Niche’s website on June 23rd, 2012.