Behind the curtain of Outside These Walls
SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read Outside These Walls, you may not want to read further.
It wasn’t until I tried writing a synopsis that I came up with my title. And how is that you may ask? Because it took several attempts at it as well as a psychological profile of all of my characters to figure it out. Once I dug around in their personalities and what makes them tick, it finally dawned on me what I’d actually written. Sound crazy? They say there are two kinds of writers: pantsers and plotters. For this book, I wrote by the seat of my pants. There was some plotting involved but very little in the grand scheme of things. Believe it or not, I let the characters guide where the story would go.
Regardless, once I went inside my characters’ heads, it became totally obvious. And it wasn’t like I had to figure out what their issues were. I knew that, no problem. But it took writing it all down to see it. Once I put Jason on paper, I realized the others were really no different. Let’s take a look.
Jason is a different sort—a social misfit driven largely by his nudist lifestyle. He’s smart, a chess club nerd. He keeps to himself. He has no friends and looks forward to his time alone. I think we’ve probably all known someone like that. I did, and I’m ashamed to say we made fun of him behind his back. If by some cosmic chance you read this, Tim, I’m sorry. Jason becomes conflicted when his personal wants and desires are challenged by his upbringing. Saying no to Jen’s initial request for help would be contrary to his mores. It’s why Kate is ashamed of him when he draws the line at Jen’s request for help with pre-calc. And it’s also why he defends her from Goff’s accusation of cheating. But his acts of nobility mean lowering the drawbridge to the castle walls he built to protect himself. Ultimately, Lis and Jen coerce him from the safety of those walls, resulting in discovering a life he couldn’t have imagined.
And let’s not forget about horny-guy, Jason’s debauched alter ego and nemesis. Noteworthy is how that side of Jason is conquered. As a reminder, honey-guy is never heard from again after the chapter Dinner and Sex. All his life, Jason observed how his father treated Kate, despite her ability to be a pain. He witnessed that women are to be treated like ladies, which is why he carries heavy guilt over the Ashley incident. He doesn’t trust himself and fears that horny-guy will again get the best of him and similarly denigrate the girls, his worst nightmare. But Lis’ description of soul-sex inspires him to share his story. By stepping outside his walls, Jason faces his affliction and escapes the clutches of his scourge.
In the chapter titled Soul Sex, Jason removes his clothes and joins the girls at the edge of the mountain. Lis narrates, “Spreading his legs a bit, he stretched his arms wide to the sky. There seemed more to those open arms than a needed stretch from driving.” And there is. Spreading his raised arms is a gesture of surrender to the chains that had bound them. Jason is becoming aware of the metamorphosis taking place.
From my beta readers, I know some didn’t like Kate. She’s a manipulator, no doubt about that. But she’s also the one who calls for an end to the twenty-five years of hell she and Pete have been living. Kate is trapped in her past—both in her life of Eden and also in her life before and after Eden. She still feels ashamed of how she treated many of her classmates, especially her husband. She is also weighed down by guilt over her secret affair with Deb and reverting to her old ways in college. So, for her, returning to Eden is a double-edged sword. It’s why living her past vicariously through the kids is so attractive. She doesn’t have to face the truth. It took Jason holding his ground with his mom for her to realize what she had to do. Ultimately, she has to face her demons and get past scared.
And then there’s Pete. He is self-imprisoned by his guilt and fear. Guilt that everything was his fault, including his inability to save Deb, and his fear of losing Kate should they again venture back into that life. After all, Deb was snatched away from him. Twisted love? Perhaps. But because I know Pete as well as I do, I say no. Both Deb and Kate accepted Pete for who he was, which was something that no one else in his life was ever able to do. He feels chosen but undeserved. Ultimately, it took Kate’s undeserving love for him to acquiesce and step outside his walls to return to a life he surely believes will end in tragedy.
The girls, their only goal in life was to wear the hive-queen crowns. Why? I insinuated but never clearly stated why, leaving it largely up to the reader to determine. But both girls feel they deserved it because of their superior looks. And in addition, the girls lack attention at home. Lis lost her father, and her mother is a piece of work as we saw at the funeral. Jen has a rather authoritarian father suggesting she doesn’t get the right kind of attention from him. Then Jason comes along, and the girls discover he’s not who they thought he was. All the while trying not to expose himself, he does by being himself.
Ultimately, the girls are forced to look in a different kind of mirror and see themselves for who they are. Think about Kate as you will, but her intentions are not always self-serving. Forcing the girls to make an honest assessment of their relationship with Jason could just as easily have backfired. Then where would she be? Lis says, “… I can’t recall a time we’d been so morally and ethically challenged. In the end, the girls choose to step outside their walls of vanity and bigotry for something far more rewarding than their crowns.