Friday, April 10, 2009

Feeling Low [A Book Review]

A novel by John Wray
Published March 2009

Everyone knows that the world is getting hotter; global warming is a problem for the ages but William Heller, a sixteen-year old schizophrenic from New York, sees things a bit differently. To stop global warming and save the world, Will believes he must cool down his own body. To cool down his body, Will needs the help of a girl, someone to help him release his overheating insides, and loose his virginity. Despite the seemingly light-hearted or comic nature of the plot's synopsis, John Wray's newest novel proves to be a sad, dark and perhaps even frightening experience. 

As one begins to read through the pages of Wray's novel, there is an initial feeling of hesitancy in accepting the material as literary. The novel alternates its protagonists by chapter, an approach commonly found within work of genre fiction. It's a method used to spur the reader into reading faster, to compel them to read more chapters in a single reading period for the purpose of finding out what happens next sooner. Wray uses this method to his advantage. Chapters end at climactic moments only to switch to another character for the next ten to twenty pages before switching back. The added suspense this brings to the novel is a plus, but it's certainly not the only reason for this particular format. The novel deals with four main characters, William Heller, his mother Yda "Violet" Heller, his love interest Emily, and the detective responsible for finding him, Ali Lateef. Because of the nature of the characters, and the way in which their histories unfold, the novel absolutely must take this approach in order to succeed. As may be expected, not every answer can be found within the mind of a schizophrenic, and though some readers may find it nagging, using Violet and Lateef as narrators is absolutely essential to the completion of the picture. 

At times this air of simple genre fiction persists given the mysterious circumstances which begin to unravel within the novel. In the briefest of moments, the novel can often stink of these undertones but they serve to meet the nature of the characters. Additionally, Wray is an underselling novelist that perhaps needed to infuse these elements in his novel to ensure printing of whatever he might want to do next. It is a book that in this regard is a mostly happy marriage between high and low brow fiction. 

The novel is suspenseful, and easily keeps a readers attention, but at the time it slowly develops into a complex examination of the human consciousness, particularly an examination of the human consciousness burdened with the weight of mental disease. Wray writes William's thoughts as if they were his own. It is a consciousness that is flowing, logical in the way information is processed, and yet the thoughts are often incomplete to a reader but are accompanied by an understanding that they are complete to William Heller. The reader is never lost within the protagonists thoughts, they are never the muddy labyrinth one might expect them to be, even at William's lowest point in the novel. As impossible of a task as it seems, Wray has written a believable and navigable channel into a schizophrenic mind. 

Almost as impressive is Wray's ability to turn William's seemingly cute quirks and shape them into frightening aspects of his mental illness. The most effective of these he manages to do within a single line. 

Wray manipulates the reader in the same way a few of the protagonists are manipulated within the novel, and so when the narrative twists, and turns the reader finds themselves on unstable ground. The novel in itself is a checklist of positive features. It's protagonist's are captivating-- in William's case, often irresistibly likable. The plot is swift, and ever moving like the trains that make up much of the novel's setting. The thematic concerns are evasive but directly tied to William Heller-- and those which every person must consider. The novel is a force and the swift,  jaw-dropping final paragraph will leave readers speechless. If the novel is truly a coming of age story, as many of the back cover accolades suggest-- then it is one of the most disturbed and captivating to have ever been written. 



Kiriska said...

Sounds pretty awesome. Wish I had time to read. :(

Joe said...

I devote Friday to reading, most often and try to read t least 20 pages every other day of the week (a few more on Saturday and Sunday). It allows me to finish a 250 page book in about 7-10 days.

I also watch very little TV-- That probably plays a part too.

Kiriska said...

I guess I should learn to pace myself with books then; I don't remember the last time I spent more than a day finishing a book. I would much rather sit down for a five hour stretch an plow through it. I don't watch TV either. I use the time to bum around the Internet instead. ;\