I didn't enjoy this book. The writing felt like the response to a creative writing prompt -- "Write a piece about a socially taboo or controversial topic in which the narrative mode is that of an unreliable narrator." It felt, to me, like an exercise, rather than the brilliant piece I (erroneously) felt I was promised via its reviews and being a National Book Award Finalist.
I have been trying to pinpoint what exactly rubbed me the wrong way with the book, and I think it's several things. First, despite being only 165 pages in length, I found the beginning in particular to be slow going. It takes time to understand the need for moving forward and back in time. Eventually, the reader understands that it is for the purpose (I think) of giving us time and space to evaluate (the narrator) Keir's character for ourselves -- to establish that what he says about himself and the ways he sees the world are not complete, accurate, or necessarily trustworthy. But rather than reading the backstory of Keir's senior year in high school, I wanted to know the context and resolution for the situation at hand. The text gets there eventually; it just takes the whole book.
Second, I don't like Keir. I am uncertain whether the author wanted us to feel sympathy for him or if his context was somehow supposed to justify his actions. Regardless, I found him an unlikeable character (which doesn't necessitate my dislike for a book, but in this case supports it). Perhaps my dislike is a personal response, as I have had the misfortune of knowing too many people like Keir -- people who make endless excuses for their actions, who are unwilling to recognize their own engagement in destructive behaviors (to themselves and/or others), who avoid any level of accountability for the ways in which they participate in the world, and/or who use victim-blaming as a strategy to justify discrimination, hate-crimes, violence, and the like. As such, there are aspects of Keir's personality that I find fundamentally reprehensible. Of course, when you look at his context you can begin to see aspects of his life that support, encourage, or merely fail to deter such attitudes and behaviors, but I am a firm believer that we are responsible for our own actions and should be held accountable for them. We cannot choose our contexts -- our family, our history, some of the challenges and struggles in our lives -- but we have choices about how we participate in the world. And, frankly, there is little I can support about Keir's choices. He makes bad choice after bad choice, with no acknowledgement of his involvement, need to take responsibility, the consequences, or much of anything else. I don't like him.
Third, it is unclear whether there is any change in Keir at the end of the book. There is a hint that perhaps, maybe, he realizes what he has done/what he is doing. But, it's unclear (at least to me). If you're going to write 163 pages about how Keir IS and there is a possibility that he comes to some sort of awakening or realization, having one and a half pages of "perhaps, maybe, kind of" change is not enough. I was disappointed.
Overall, I am uncertain with what lesson or idea the reader is supposed to come away from the book. That some guys are just assholes? (Such a statement is perhaps true, but life teaches us that.) But if that is all the book is trying to accomplish, what a waste of time.