I only discovered what I most didn’t want to know
In Mona Simpson’s Casebook, Miles Adler-Hart is just a kid when he begins spying on his family members. Armed with a set of walkie talkies and a knack for digging through drawers and bedside tables, Miles quickly discovers that he is soon to be a child of divorce. While most kids might be horrified and distracted by such a discovery, Miles turns his initial shock into a learning experience and an opportunity to delve further into adult secrets.
Within a year or two, Miles and his best friend Hector have a foolproof snooping system. They know such endeavors are all about timing, so the two frequently make use of parental absences, and whenever they hear hushed voices, the detectives find a way to listen in, even if it means tapping the phone lines, hiding under beds, and peeking through widows. But when Miles’s mother, whom he affectionately refers to as “Mims,” gets a new boyfriend, the detectives decide to investigate Eli so there won’t be any surprises if marriage or cohabitation becomes a possibility.
But Miles soon realizes that adult relationships are difficult for a pre-teen to navigate, and finds himself constantly baffled by issues of sex, jealousy, commitment, divorce, and more sex. Again, most kids would be horrified by the notion of their mother having sex, but by this point, sleuthing is more of a lifestyle than a hobby for Miles, and he becomes obsessed with Eli and his motivations with the family. As their relationship becomes more serious, Miles and Hector unearth some shocking details about Eli and decide to find a way to intervene.
While Casebook first appears to be a young boy’s quirky coming-of-age story, the tale slowly morphs into a tender and wry commentary on modern relationships, marriage, child-rearing, trust, divorce, and friendship. As Miles charts adult relationships, his own emotions become a churning vat of perplexity, ripe for miscommunication and uncertainty. And as he ages and develops more understanding of the adult world, his over-indulged curiosity for his mother transforms into a sense of respect and concern, which isn’t always in agreement with the private details he ascertains along the way.
While Miles may share a literary liking with Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy, Mona Simpson’s exploration of modern parent-child relationships is a whip-smart and moving epilogue to the child detective stories. When those detectives catch the bad guy, punishment is swift and a new mystery begins. But for Miles, the characters remain the same and the plot only thickens – such is the ultimate discovery of a curious boy sprinting toward the horizon of adulthood.
By Mona Simpson