Reading Jennifer Bradbury’s novel Shift, one becomes aware of a pattern of emotions attributed to the story’s two main characters, Chris and Win. Win, a noted prankster and “smart-ass,” is habitually described as smiling. Contrast that with Chris’s myriad self-descriptions throughout the novel. Win is Chris’s ‘rock,’ his pillar of strength and stability and confidence. Being abandoned and left to endure the criminal investigation and interrogations of FBI agent Ward and of Win’s father, regarding Win’s disappearance, Chris grows increasingly angry. Returning home alone to begin college, he confronts the emotional vacuum that accompanies his friend’s absence:
“I realized that on this day, the first of my college career, I was acutely aware of Win’s absence. The concern and anger I’d had for him since I learned he was AWOL were now replaced by something else. Panic. Win had been my partner in stuff like this for the last decade.”
Very soon, these emotions are replaced with hormonal-driven sensations as he is introduced to his new classmate, an exotic Indian girl named Vanti: “She sighed and looked up at the ceiling, stuck the end of her pencil in her mouth. I was in love.”
As their conversation progresses, the subject of Chris and Win’s cross-country bicycle ride came up: “This was a moment I loved. I’d loved it all the way across the country when people found out we’d come under just our own power.”
Chris is on an emotional rollercoaster, the anxiety and anger directed against the missing Win alternating with the lust he feels for Vanti. His anger at Win, however, begins to evolve into a more complex set of emotions:
“The truth was, I wanted to find him. Partly because I was so pissed. Pissed that I was pretty sure he knew exactly what he was doing – exactly how his folks would react and what a mess he’d made of my life. That part wanted to find him, beat the crap out of him, and then haul his carcass back to his parents and Abe Ward. But the other part of me was pulled by something less definitive than anger. Maybe it was the need to see if he was all right. Maybe it was to find out what the hell he’d been thinking when he ditched me. Maybe just to see if he was the same person.”
When Chris finally locates Win, he prepares to confront his “friend.” Win had been sending anonymous notes to Chris that the latter eventually determined were penned by his friend, and which each provided subtle hints as to Win’s location. In response to Win’s comment that “I knew you’d come,” Chris says, “What tipped you off? Could it be that you pretty much told me where you were?” The anger crept into my voice unbidden. It had always been there, and now that its source was standing in front of me, it was drawn out like a magnet.” Chris has grown and matured, however, and his anger continues to dissipate, to be replaced with relief at Win’s apparently tranquil existence shorn of parental expectations and of relief that his friend is simply alive and well. The experience has changed both boys, but Chris is the one who has undergone the most dramatic transformation courtesy of Win’s machinations.