Patrick Kilgallon’s Gather the Weeds is a significant novel in many ways. Set in a dystopian future, the narrative follows the efforts of protagonist Michael Poole to keep his head above water in a kind of relocation camp for people with disabilities known only as The Gate. In some ways, then, the novel is reminiscent of such sci-fi fare as Logan’s Run and THX1138, in which repressive closed societies offer their protagonists a natural obstacle (or increasingly treacherous set of obstacles) to overcome. Indeed, George Orwell’s 1984 likely serves as a significant touchstone for this novel. What sets it apart from others like it — and from the recent spate of young-adult novels like The Giver and Hunger Games in which youthful protagonists struggle to survive amidst the retched and repressive social conditions of not-too-distant futures — is that the narrator is deaf.
Here lies the greatest challenge that Kilgallon, who is himself deaf, faces: he must convey the experience of deafness to the non-deaf. While this is certainly no easy task, the author pulls it off with admirable skill and to highly convincing ends. Basically what Kilgallon does throughout the novel is place the reader in the (at least initially) uncomfortable position of not only trying to figure out what kind of world the narrator lives in, but of doing so through the relatively unfamiliar filter of the narrator’s perceptions. Needless to say, the fact that the narrator is deaf skews his perceptions in a direction that most readers might not normally consider, and we must work to compensate for our lack of familiarity with the narrator’s world. To put it more plainly, Kilgallon helps us to understand what it is like to be “the other” (in this case, a young deaf person) by placing us directly in “the other’s” head. That he manages to do so while telling an engaging story and creating a finely-tuned, believable universe is a testament not just to his skill as a storyteller but to his craftsmanship with the raw material of language. Though Gather the Weeds can be a difficult read at times, it’s well worth the effort.
-Review by Marc Schuster