Man, I’m going for some candy reading next. Visit from the Goon Squad (See WW 10/4/11) was head-spinning bizarre. Invisible Bridge (See WW 10/5/11) was enough gut wrenching on its own, though the storytelling style is fairly straightforward. But then I went to Lowboy without investigating.
I’d read another by Wray a while back, its details not clear in my memory, but good enough apparently to keep him on my list for another try, so I downloaded Lowboy. The first, The Right Hand of Sleep (See WW Mon., 9/14/09), once I refreshed my memory, I realized was another Nazi/Soviet tale, and I feared I’d let myself in for more of what I complained about at the beginning of the last entry. But not to worry. No Nazi’s here. But an easy book? Johnboy apparently doesn’t know how.
He chooses to explore paranoid schizophrenia. Will has gone off his meds, left the hospital, and gone off on a Manhattan quest to save the world. He’s “Lowboy” because 1) he keeps to the subways. A pretty obvious womb/vagina metaphor. 2) He’s a useless piece of furniture, short on drawers and height, unlike the more elegant and utilitarian highboy. Will has a sense of urgency about his journey because global warning will destroy the earth by nightfall if he doesn’t get where he’s going and do what he’s supposed to do. That much is clear to us, the reader, but because we spend much of our time seeing the world through Will’s p-schizophrenic eyes, it’s pretty hard to tell the what’s and why’s of much of the story. And Wray doesn’t mean us to. It’s part of the story’s experience to live inside Will’s mind, and if you try to make too much logical real-world sense of it, you will never enter the book. It reminds me of Faulkner’s great feat with Benjy in The Sound and the Fury.
Parallel with Will’s journey is that of detective Ali Lateef (who changed his name from Rufus Lamarck White for reasons never explained), and Will’s mother, who pair up to pursue Will before he accidentally or on purpose harms himself or someone else. It’s not a whodunit because you never know what was done, if anything. It’s more of a stop-it-before-it-strikes, except you’re never sure what’s striking, where or when or to what effect.
Confused? That’s the only way to enjoy the book. Give yourself up to the state of turmoil, don’t ask for clarity. By the end you’ll have had an exciting, if painful and baffling reading experience. And if you’re like me, you will be glad you picked the book up, but not all that sorry to put it down even though it was a rich and challenging read.