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Friday, December 3, 2010

The Resurrectionist, by Jack O'Connell ($13.95)(c2008)

I've liked Jack O'Connell's books since Box Nine (c2000) presented us with the bleak and ruined industrial community of Quinsigamond. O'Connell defined it as part of an "industrial rust belt." He also said: "God tends to fall asleep in Quinsigamond. And sometimes His dreams are perverse." This fictional city has rotted from the center outward. Its once "normal" constituency and lifestyle has engendered the likes of Bangkok Square, home to all things degenerate and demeaning. Gangs roam the town. Murder hangs its hat and suspicion colors the air there. Although O'Connell does not linger in "Q-town" in this book, he has written convulsively about his creation in his other four books. The only unifying thread among the books is this morally and physically corrupt city. Think "Blade Runner." Think Kafka's The Castle.*

In all of O'Connell's books it feels as though there's a lurking, looming, unexplained presence in the background. The books teeter on the verge of tumbling into techno sci-fi or fantasy. The Resurrectionist is the first book to fall face first into another world.

At the start, we meet Sweeney, a pharmacist, who has moved to the edge of Quinsigamond so Danny, his comatose seven-year-old son, can receive experimental treatment at "The Clinic" that might awaken him. He goes to work at his son's facility so he can be near Danny. He meets an odd assortment of co-workers. It goes sideways, reality-wise, from there. Are the doctors at The Clinic trying to help Danny or destroy him? Are Sweeney's real friends the people in The Clinic or the nasty bikers who terrorize him?

Alternating with Sweeney's story is a summarization of several issues of the comic book series Sweeney was reading to his son before his accident. It tells about the adventures of a traveling band of circus freaks in an area nicknamed Limbo. In fact, the story refers to many geographical areas in our world, but their definitions are stretched and remolded in Limbo. The main character is "Chicken Boy," a human who has a beak and is covered with feathers. Although Sweeney read it to his then six-year-old son, it is clearly a work with adult themes and situations, another hint that perhaps The Resurrectionist's world is tilted a few degrees south.

O'Connell tells us that his book is an exploration of consciousness. What is its nature? Which is the dream: the life the coma victim left behind or where he exists in his comatose state? Who are the freaks: the doctors and other inhabitants of our world or the circus travelers? Here is O'Connell describing his book: "So here is a book about loss and grief and rage. About coma and comic books and pharmaceuticals. About psychotic bikers and mad neurologists and wandering circus freaks." And so much more.

James Ellroy said O'Connell is "the future of the dark, literary suspense novel."

O'Connell's books are rich in imagination and style. He said about himself, "I have spent most of my adult life writing about the intersections between language and reality and identity." I rejoice every time a new book appears, which is far too seldom. It is exciting to see that O'Connell has finally fulfilled the promise of showing us another kind of reality.

*In talking about the comic book series he developed for this book, O'Connell said: "I like to think of it as what might have developed had Kafka snuck up on The Adventures of Tintin creator Hergé, stabbed the artist to death with his own charcoal pencil, and then highjacked the story."

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