LIGHTNING PEOPLE by Christopher Bollen

Book Quote:

“If you take any event and isolate it, blow it up huge so you can study its slightest grain, there’d be a million tiny impossibilities worming every which way across the landscape, all the unlikely variables, all of the unaccounted-for seconds, all of the chance collisions falling too perfectly into place. That’s what life is.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (SEP 19, 2011)

Lightning People is an electrifying book, a high voltage tightrope of five 30-something characters that are walking the edge in the post 9/11 New York City. It’s a book about true connections, missed connections and downright parasitic connections. Its energy strikes and surges randomly, briefly illuminating, sometimes plunging back into the darkness. And by the end, it leaves the reader rubbing eyes as he or she emerges back into a transformed light.

In crucial ways, its theme is similar to the Oscar-winning movie Crash. One of the key characters in that movie said: “In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”

Move the setting from L.A. to New York. An ensemble of rootless characters crash into each other as they struggle to find meaningful interactions. There is the actor Joseph Giteau, who left his Ohio home and his reclusive and conspiracy-obsessed mother, newly married to Del Kousavos, a snake expert at a city zoo who is on a work visa from Greece. In the aftermath of 9/11, he finds himself at thriving prisonerofearth conspiracy meetings, trying to take stock and make sense of his life.

Joseph and Del are surrounded by others: Raj, Del’s exotic and not-yet-forgotten former lover and his sister Madi, Del’s best friend, an executive at a company outsourcing jobs to India. And lastly, there is William Asternathy, whose career is on permanent hiatus, on “fast live-wire current circulating through the city.”

All of these characters try to remake their fate and their destiny in that shining yet alienated city of re-creation, New York. Del considers: ”The whole city was pulsating with electricity. It had been all of the light that had first attracted her to New York, had brought all of the fresh arrivals beating around the same shine. But what happens when her eyes finally adjusted to the light?” And William thinks, “No one in New York has parents. Or families for that matter. We’re all pretty much immigrants taking shelter here.”

As the action pulsates forward, secrets emerge or remain hidden, and it’s very important for each reader to experience the arc of these secrets individually. Among the questions raised are, “Will a generational health secret derail Joseph and Del’s marriage and end Joseph’s life prematurely? How will William’s dark self-destructive streak affect those around him and what damage will it do? And are the conspiracy theories – deriving from the Latin phrase “breathe together” – a shared paranoia or are they self-fulfilling prophecies?”

As these characters brush against each other – sometimes willingly, sometimes inadvertently – sparks are set off. “Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice until it does,” muses Joe. Coincidences are packed into coincidences, but that is the fabric of the novel; how our lives all intersect and how one shocking personal tragedy can alter our paths, individually and collectively.

This is an intricate novel, beautifully plotted, brimming with high-stakes paranoia and calamity and angst, narrated with vigor and flashes of insight. It is difficult to believe this is a debut novel and it certainly goes on my Top Ten list for 2011.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Soft Skull Press; 1 edition (August 30, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Christopher Bollen
EXTRAS: Interview with the author
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:



September 19, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Character Driven, Contemporary, Debut Novel, New York City

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