The vignettes that make up this “novel in pieces” follow a child named Art as he sorts through the confusion that is childhood. These are glimpses at moments of vulnerability, strung along a trajectory of change, development, the old Bildungsroman shtick, without the roman part, really, as these are more sketches than anything else, and there’s a sense, throughout, of a holding back, perhaps geared to mimic Art’s own withdrawal into art, wincing away from the terrors of atomic war and Sputnik by turning to science fiction, adventure stories, or seeking to escape from his father’s rage by traveling deeper into his own interior existence. At the book’s beginning, Art is in a hospital bed, and this theme of the fragility of life recurs throughout—the horror of childhood is, in part, horror at the reality of the mortal condition. A pet is crushed between the wheels of a car, a model plane crashes into the ground, and Art, meanwhile, matures from daydreams of invisibility to fantasies of suicide. From bruised child to young bohemian, but, again, it’s the unspoken that characterizes The Shame of What We Are, and not in some laudable way. Art comes to believe that “his true life was in another universe,” but we aren’t shown that universe, merely why and how a person might come to that conclusion, might come to need that belief. Art—the category of human actions—morphs from mechanism of escape to one of defense to, ultimately, a place of refuge, but unlike so many successful Bildungsromans, we’re never shown this transformation, merely told about it. Art—the character—reads Lawrence Durrell in class, and he relays to us that it was a thrill, but unless this information incites some vicarious memory in the reader, the reader will likely be left out. Which is perhaps Gridley’s intent; “It seemed he’d always been as disconnected and lightheaded as he felt now,” he writes, about a narrator who is as dazed, at the story’s end, as he is at its start, still flinching away from the pain and fear of life.