Monday, July 16, 2012

The Hollow City

The Hollow City is a stand-alone novel by Dan Wells and follows a schizophrenic protagonist; a similar vein to his John Cleaver Series, whose protagonist was a sociopath. Wells seems to be the guy who always writes about mental illness, and I'm okay with that. You can follow Dan at his Twitter, blog, and on Writing Excuses. Here are the reviews from EBR and Bookworm Blues, and an interesting post on the inspiration for the book.

A synopsis, from BN:
Michael Shipman has paranoid schizophrenia; he suffers from hallucinations, delusions, and complex, horrific fantasies of persecution. They are as real to him as your peaceful life is to you. He is haunted by sounds and voices, stalked by faceless men, and endlessly pursued by something even deeper and darker--something he doesn't dare think about.
        Soon the authorities are linking him to a string of gruesome serial killings, and naturally no one believes them himself. Hounded on every side, Michael contemplates a terrifying possibility: that some of the monsters he sees are real.
        Who can you trust if you can't even trust yourself? THE HOLLOW CITY is a mesmerizing journey into madness, where the most frightening enemy of all is your own mind.

The book opens with a typical crime drama foof. We watch a murder, and we know this going to be the center of the story. But then we cut to the hospital where Michael Shipman is waking up, and he has no idea where he's been for the last two weeks. We don't know who he is yet or how he's related to that murder. If you've read the John Cleaver books, this protagonist will feel familiar. He's a damaged soul, unable to interact with life normally, and the deeply personal narration and the close viewpoint makes everything painful and tense. Since he is a schizophrenic, we have no idea what is real and what is not (even when we think we do), and because of that we have no idea who to believe or who to trust. The first few chapters do a great job of explaining the disease and debunking the common myths, so the reader understands what is happening to Michael's synapses. Wells does a great job at making the reader as skeptical of people as the protagonist is, and we can relate to him even through this mental disease.

I've mentioned before on this blog that I have schizophrenia in my family, and the hiding-from-authorities and living-under-a-bridge hit really close to home. Look at the way Michael acts in the book, and watch the way Jani acts, and Michael will seem all the more real. The hand movements, the intelligence, the hallucinations... Again, Wells did a fantastic job at creating such a vivid character.

For the first half of the book, I had no idea where the plot was going. We were just existing with Michael through the first two months of his treatment. But you know something is very wrong. There is something very weird with the Children of the Earth cult, and with the Faceless Men, and Michael slowly finds out more and more between the doctors and the FBI agents who come to interrogate him.

I really liked that I was completely in the dark until the very end of the book. I made several guesses, and they were all wrong. But that was awesome! Because what actually happened is way better than I could have thought up myself. And while I do still have some lingering questions about the Red Line Killer (Why the mutilation? Why that specific mutilation?), there was no time to wrap everything up with a bow. The book ends suddenly (thank you for the epilogue!) but rest assured it's the only way it could have ended, and it was great.

Also: "Steve, the bookstore guy?" Hilarious! I laughed out loud when I got to that one. EBR

There was a point during the middle of the book, when I was reading on the train headed home from work, like I always do, and we pass the Temple University football field. Its empty. There are always people practicing on that field, until 5pm every day. But of course there's a reasonable explanation, that explanation being It's summer, and the football team's on a break. But I didnt think of that. I thought of the hollow city in the book with no people and no movement, and it freaked me out a little. And of course, the next road we pass is full of cars but there's no one on the sidewalk, so now I HAVE to stare out the window until I see a person, and finally the next street had a bunch of guys playing basketball so everything was ok, but that's not the point, is it Mr. Wells? The point is you freaked me the fuck out for approximately six seconds, and that's kind of awesome.

All in all, this book was great. I definitely recommend it (as well as the John Cleaver books), and I think you should give it a shot even if you weren't as much a fan of Partials, because this book is completely different. It's original and keeps you hooked all the way to the end. I'm definitely interested to see what Wells comes out with next!

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