This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:
As the title suggests, this book is an edited down version of a story–a story about Mike. And a story about Mike and Phil (Philomel). As author Lyga explains in a note that starts the novel: “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 story begins as Mike realizes he can edit reality leading to fundamental changes in the world that only he perceives like changing the color of his now ex-girlfriend Phil’s party dress between red and blue–the latter of which better compliments Phil’s naturally teal hair and begins a journey for both characters through a series of world-shifting changes to their individual lives and their relationship with each other and reality in Edited (2022) by Barry Lyga.
In Edited, Lyga inserts himself into the story as a quasi-character sharing notes on his creative process and authorial choices both in the narrative and in footnotes throughout the novel referencing points in Unedited–the 794 page companion to Edited–where readers can find more information on different areas like “a deeper dive into George’s miserable childhood” in chapter two of Unedited which is instead a brief paragraph in Edited.
Edited is a high concept story 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 children’s and YA literature is instead known as “nonadult” and Mike’s best friend George loves the author Gayl Rybar (an acronym for Barry Lyga) creating many tongue-in-cheek moments that don’t quite coalesce into meaningful world building or in-depth characterization while keeping the narrative voice impersonal as seen in Mike’s dissection of his friendship 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 like 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 for readers but rarely lead to a larger impact on the story or characters.
Phil–the only female character of note in this book–comes with another set of programs as for most of the novel she serves as an object of Mike’s pining without becoming a fully developed character in her own right. Lyga notes this problem himself writing that Phil comes across as “paper-thin, a caricature more than a character” as she explains herself in the only chapter narrated by Phil where she breaks the fourth wall to discuss with readers the “Creator’s advantage” of the author and the multitudinous nature of characters who can be many things–both good and bad.
What Mike experiences throughout the novel is “as simple and as complex as ink on paper” in this self-referential, process-driven story where creativity trumps everything.