Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Review: The Hollow City by Dan Wells

"The Hollow City" is about a man named Michael Shipman who has schizophrenia and finds himself in a mental hospital being treated with various drugs to help control hallucinations, having lost two weeks of recent memory, (which coincide with the gory murders of members of a nearby cult-- whom he believes kidnapped and murdered his mother right after his birth). As if that's not enough to wrap your head around, along with hallucinations of "faceless" men, he sees other things, hears voices and believes there is a massive conspiracy and a Plan that has something to do with him and is very dangerous.

As the story moves along, we are just as unsure as Michael about which people and events in his life are real or imagined, and the deeper aspects of mental illness, and its treatment, are explored through his first-person present-tense narration. They psychosomatic drugs he is treated with cause uncontrollable physical reactions: his teeth click, his head bobs and his left arm involuntarily and compulsively swings. The matter-of-fact way he narrates these things makes him so relatable. Don't we all try to hold back if our body tries to shake or twitch or fidget? Wouldn't it make you frustrated if you couldn't control your own body? I feel like I totally understand this, even though I don't have anything in my life quite like what Michael has. Which brings me to my next point:

Dan Wells is very good at planting readers right into the minds of his protagonists, and not only do you become deeply sympathetic to them, but his compassionate and honest storytelling make you love them. In his John Cleaver books, the protagonist is a sociopath, and I quickly found myself caring about, sympathizing with and, on some level, really understanding him-- his motivations, his feelings (and lack thereof) and how his mind worked. I connected with a sociopath, causing some pondering about how my own brain is wired. I love a book that makes me think, without overwhelming my puny brain.

In "The Hollow City", Dan has done the same thing with the schizophrenic patient. The story is so well written that as the reader experiences Michael's story, we feel his fear, love, hate, anger, frustration, confusion, sadness, and sometimes clarity right along with him. I've never known much about schizophrenia beyond the fact that people with it generally hear voices and hallucinate. I feel like I have a little more sympathy and a tiny bit more understanding of the disease now, and imagine that- gained from a work of fiction. As he said at the book signing,  (and I'm paraphrasing from my faulty memory, forgive me if I get it wrong) Dan didn't want to "demonize" or "canonize" mental illness, as so many fictional stories do. He wanted to make it real and relatable. He did just that.

The story is very good, the resolution satisfying and exciting, and the very last scene is AWESOME! I said it before, I think Dan Wells is a serious smarty-pants. I can't wait to see what he does next.

I blew through this book in about a day and a half (and had I not a full-time job, it would have only been a matter of hours); now what the heck should I read next? Suggestions?

No comments: