Cormier’s next novel, I Am the Cheese, was a departure from his first success in a number of ways. The multiple points of view of the first novel become, in the second, a mosaic of perspectives that challenge the reader and build the tension in the novel until its very last word.
Even the innocuous opening of the novel—“I am riding the bicycle and I am on Route 31 in Monument, Massachusetts, on my way to Rutterburg, Vermont, and I’m pedaling furiously”—raises mysteries: Who is riding, and why? The second chapter only adds to readers’ confusion, for it starts with a transcript of what appears to be a counseling session between a boy, Adam Farmer, and a psychiatrist. Is Adam trying to recall his own lost history, or is his interrogator trying to get information from him?
What is slowly revealed, as Adam uncovers his past for the reader and for the mysterious Brint, is that his father had been a reporter for a small New York State newspaper who discovered evidence of government corruption and testified in Washington about what he knew. When attempts were made on his life, Anthony Delmonte joined a witness protection program, and he and his wife and small son, Paul, were given new names and identities and moved to Monument, Massachusetts. The new identities do not shield them, however; Grey, the government contact responsible for the family, is apparently a double agent. The family is forced to flee Monument, and Adam’s...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
An unnamed young man is riding his bicycle, dressed in his father’s Army fatigue jacket and wool cap, or took. He is fearfully yet determinedly making a long trek from Monument, Massachusetts, to Rutterberg, Vermont. He carries a package for his father and, just before leaving home, discards some medicine.
The narrative switches to a transcript of a discussion between questioner “T” (self-identified as “Brint”) and subject “A.” The goal appears to be to elicit memories from A, and among the topics discussed are an abrupt move the family made when A was of preschool age and had the name Paul Delmonte. The transcript—composed of both exterior questions and answers and interior narration—ends when A complains of a headache.
The rest of the book alternates chapters between these two formats. The rider is Adam Farmer, an older teen who encounters many obstacles, including a dog attack, hostile local boys who run him off the road, poor weather, a thief, and failed attempts to reach his friend Amy on the phone. Through it all, he remains focused on his goal of Rutterberg and shores up his courage by singing “The Farmer in the Dell,” the way his insurance-salesman father once did.
During the transcripted sessions, A is guided by Brint through a series of important life events, including meeting Amy. A is shy and introverted, while Amy is quick-spirited and mischievous; her idea of fun is to play pranks called “Numbers.”
A major milestone occurs one day when A—now in his mid-teens—receives a call from Amy. She tells him that a newspaper editor from A’s former hometown visited Amy’s father, a local newspaper editor himself. Amy’s father mentioned the Farmers to his visiting colleague, but the visitor did not recall any family named Farmer ever living in the town. After that call, A becomes suspicious about heretofore unquestioned truths about his life and quietly investigates. He uncovers a double birth certificate for himself, and he listens in on his mother’s “special” phone calls.
A’s conversations with Brint seem superficially...
(The entire section is 870 words.)