LOWBOY by John Wray
“She nodded and laughed again and squeezed his hand. He’d told her everything and she hadn’t heard a word. He took a breath and tried to start from the beginning but he didn’t know where the beginning was. He couldn’t think of it. Violet was the beginning but Violet didn’t matter to him now. Neither did Dr. Fleisig. Neither did the school. He tried his best to have a single thought. He closed his mouth and pushed his teeth together. The beginning had actually happened just that morning. Nothing else had any consequence or weight. On November 11 he had run to catch a train.
Reviewed by Bonnie Brody (NOV 11, 2009)
This is a brilliant book, a masterpiece. Because Lowboy has the ability to bring about such intense emotional reactions and is so riveting, writing an adequate review of it is very difficult. It is like trying to describe why I get goose bumps when I listen to my favorite symphony played by the greatest orchestra or trying to describe why I felt the way I did when I first saw Botticelli’s paintings at the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy.
This book is about a schizophrenic adolescent named Lowboy. Lowboy likes to ride the subways of New York. He has recently been released from a psychiatric facility where he was detained for eighteen months after pushing his girlfriend onto the subway tracks. Today he has run away from his escorts, whom he calls, “Skull and Bones, his state-appointed enemies.” His mother and the police are searching for him. The chapters alternate between ones that are in Lowboy’s voice and others that are from the vantage point of the detective, Ali Lateef, and Lowboy’s mother, Yda, who are searching for Lowboy.
In the chapters that are in Lowboy’s voice, we are taken into the world of a schizophrenic. As a clinical social worker who has worked extensively with the seriously and chronically mentally ill, I have never read a book that catches so lyrically, poetically, and tragically the true sense of what it is to be a paranoid schizophrenic. John Wray gets it. He paints a picture with his words, creating a sensibility and truth about this disease.
As Lowboy says, “The order of the world is not my order.” He says this while trying to buy some cupcakes and does not know how to convey the number of cupcakes he wants, what kind he wants, or how to navigate the issue of cost. The situation ends up with Lowboy being asked to leave the store.
I found the following passage the most moving description of Lowboy’s Illness from his own perceptions. It is a passage from a letter to his mother.
“I was sitting in the Smoking Room reading the Wall Street Journal when I saw the Schoolmaster aka Dr. Fleisig sliding sideways down the hall. Fleisig is a friendly Mediterranean man he looks a little bit like Jacques Cousteau. But this time I jumped up and dropped my cigarette and ran to the door. Because I knew by then it wasn’t really Fleisig. He was changing his haircut every 6 or 7 steps & playing temperature games inside his body. & at night he used my hands to eat with.”
The chapters from the detective’s and Lowboy’s mother’s perspectives help give the reader additional information about Lowboys childhood, his first psychotic break, and the nature of his symptoms. His mother’s grief and fear for his well-being are palpable. The detective is kindly and, over time, appears to be smitten with Lowboy’s mother.
The story line is riveting. Lowboy is seeking his girlfriend who he is not supposed to see. He is also very worried about global warming. As he rides the subway lines we are privy to his inner thoughts, hallucinations and delusions. Mr. Wray has done his research about schizophrenia very thoroughly. Nothing seems artificial or postured.
This is a remarkable book, one that I believe has staying power over time and will be read for decades to come. It is rare that I read a book that thrills me. This one has. I applaud Mr. Wray and am grateful that I had the opportunity to read this
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 55 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux (March 3, 2009)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia page on John Wray|
|EXTRAS:||FSG page on Lowboy
Gothamist interview with John Wray
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Also see Poornima Apte’s review of Lowboy|