As I mentioned, though, the relationship the novel establishes with the reader is as push-pull as any of those between its characters. A moment that threatens to become emotional will be quickly punctured with a sentence of corrosive irony. By the end of the novel I felt it and I had formed a sort of unhealthy relationship: half the time I spent admiring its bravado, while the other half I spent rubbing my neck from plot-induced whiplash. Ultimately, I think it was worth the occasionally rough terrain. The times I spent almost disliking the book ultimately made me like it more.
Dec 05, Jeff Golick rated it really liked it. An extremely rich book. The story is far-fetched -- est-like cult; secret Sin City beneath Cincinnati; undercover operatives from the West going deep into North Korea but despite the narrative extremes, the well-drawn characters and even more deeply felt situations and relationships keep us pinned to the ground, as we wish, perhaps more than some of the characters, that these people find what they are looking for. Apr 12, Travis Fortney rated it liked it. In its pages, we meet Thurlow Dan, who has founded a cult called the Helix to solve the problem of loneliness.
It isn't working particularly well for him, and in the course of the novel he will go to desperate extremes to cure himself of this affliction once and for all. One of the people he is lonely for is his ex-wife Esme, an FBI agent and the leader of the team who is assigned to track him. Esme is lonely for him in return. Their daughter is lonely for her missing father, her workaholic mother, and her recently dead grandparents. The other FBI agents who Esme brings onto her team are all lonely, too. Anne-Janet has a sick mother and cancer to deal with, and has never had a serious boyfriend.
Ned dresses up as a Stormtrooper and visits internet chat rooms. Bruce is a misunderstood documentary filmmaker. Olgo is lonely because his wife has run off and joined the Helix. Maazel sums up what exactly the Helix is about midway through: ".. I didn't understand why Thurlow had a greater claim as an authority on the kind loneliness specific to our current age than anyone else, especially since his loneliness is mostly a direct result of his alienation from his wife an child, and he founded the Helix before he and Esme ever met.
I wasn't sure what this twenty-first century loneliness looks like to Ms. I know she might assume it's obvious--something to do with communications technology, greater population density, a higher divorce rate, a move to more urban areas--but these are just guesses, because I am not an expert on the subject. One problem with Woke Up Lonely is that Thurlow Dan doesn't appear to be an expert on the subject either--I don't think he needed to be for this novel to be successful, but I would like to have known what got him started down this path in the first place.
It felt to me like Ms. Maazel didn't want to state the obvious reasons why people today are especially lonely because to do so would have made the book less unique, but she has such a gift for observation that I wished she had given it a try. I'm sure that she could have made Thurlow's loneliness both universal and unprecedented, and it would have added a lot to the novel if his character was more than a bumbling sad sack albeit a very funny one.
Last week in this review I wrote that there is a certain kind of modern novel where the male protagonist could always be played by Steve Carrel in the movie version.
Since Woke Up Lonely is a book in the maximalist tradition, we have four male characters, all of whom are vying for maximum face time. And all four of them could be played by different versions of Steve Carrel. Suffice to say, every male character in this book is nice enough, fairly easygoing, easy to laugh at, kind of sad, and basically average.
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To be fair though, Ms. Maazel saves her best character work here for Esme, whose character I thought embodied the conflicts at her core very nicely. Indeed, Woke Up Lonely could be read as a post-feminist novel where the most compelling conflict is the career vs. She initially rejects Thurlow, then gets pregnant with their child, leaves him, reunites with him, marries him although this decision is motivated by the opportunity for career advancement , finally falls in love with him, leaves him again, pawns her child off on her parents, adopts a foster child because she misses her own child, secretly follows her ex-husband's movements, never really stops loving him, struggles to connect with her estranged daughter, and eventually decides that family is the most important thing.
I suppose Thurlow and Esme could even be read as allegorical to a great many twenty-first century relationships, where the world is full of background noise, careers are all consuming, its easy to know everything about a person without ever interacting in the flesh, and true connection can be difficult. But, again, that plot arc isn't fully developed, and to read the novel that way is a bit of a stretch. What we have instead is a complex web of stories laid over top of each other, told in a way that seems intentionally confusing.
A large section of the novel is told on a series of sixty or so note cards. Another large section involves sometimes confusing switches from first to third person when we are in the same character's point of view. Much of the story takes place in North Korea, and for whatever reason these sections seem a bit stale. Maybe this is due to all of the escalating talk about the new North Korean regime recently, maybe it's due to the recent Saturday Night Live skits, or maybe it's the appearance of The Orphan Master's Son last year.
It might also be that the the scene about North Korea Ms. Maazel seems intent on making her big emotional reveal that Esme is posing as Kim Jong-il while Thurlow is meeting with him falls flat, since Thurlow never believed he was meeting with the real Kim Jong-il in the first place, and we already know Esme has a proclivity for disguise. In another layer on top of all this, we have the stories of the members of Esme's team, all of which are told in some detail.
It doesn't help that despite all the ingenuity on their surface, the team's stories are fairly conventional. Anne-Janet's story is about cancer, Bruce's is about pregnancy, Ned's is about adoption, and Olgo's is about infidelity. The team's stories provide a nice way for Maazel to clarify her theme and showcase her humor early on, but its a bit puzzling when she abandons Thurlow and Esme at the end of the book to wrap up the story of each individual team member instead of providing real resolution for our two protagonists.
This book reminded me of Ryan Boudinot's Blueprints of the Afterlife , which was unique, funny and entertaining, and which I also had trouble connecting to on an emotional level. Like Boudinot's novel, Woke Up Lonely is filled to the point of bursting with spot-on observations and laugh-out-loud funny lines, but all of these wonderful parts don't necessarily add up to a satisfying whole. Still, it's well worth picking up Woke Up Lonely , giving it a read, and discovering the good humor and great fun to be had in its pages for yourself.
Mar 19, Judy rated it liked it Shelves: 21st-century-fiction. The publisher's letter to the reader in the front of my review copy of Woke Up Lonely suggests there are two ways to read the novel: speedily while being propelled by the action or taking one's time to savor Maazel's precision, wit, and prose. In my first reading I attempted the speed method but kept being foiled by the prose.
I got to the end feeling supremely annoyed. Who is this Fiona Maazel anyway, I thought, and why is she considered to be so hot? She tells us the story of Thurlow Dan, found The publisher's letter to the reader in the front of my review copy of Woke Up Lonely suggests there are two ways to read the novel: speedily while being propelled by the action or taking one's time to savor Maazel's precision, wit, and prose.
She tells us the story of Thurlow Dan, founder and leader of Helix, a cult that promises to cure loneliness. The opening pitch in Dan's words: "Here is something you should know: we are living in an age of pandemic. Of pandemic and paradox. To be more interconnected than ever and yet lonelier than ever.
To be almost immortal with what science is doing for us yet plagued with feelings that are actually revising how we operate on a biological level. Want to know what that means? I'll tell you. He deserted his wife and year old infant nine years earlier after being serially unfaithful and has wound up rich, famous, under investigation by the American government for possible acts of terrorism, still in love with his ex-wife, and lonely as hell.
Esme, the ex-wife, is a freelance agent working for Homeland Security. She does her best to raise her daughter Ida in her spare time while secretly trying to save Thurlow from himself. Time is running out though because the cult leader's misguided attempt to test his theories on North Korea's Dear Leader has landed him in some very hot water. The lunatic fringe of his cult harbors terrorist leanings and if Esme doesn't pull off something brilliant, the man she still loves is going down. My problem was that I did not figure all this out until I had almost finished the book.
Due to the author's impressive vocabulary, I had to keep stopping to look up words.
Review: Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel
Nothing wrong with that; I love words. Not to mention that at least six of the main characters each has his or her own plot. The advance-praise blurbs for Woke Up Lonely left me sputtering with refutation. So I tried the second suggested reading approach. I began again, taking my time, paying attention, letting Fiona Maazel talk to me. Sure enough, like meeting someone who at first comes across as despicable and later becomes a great friend, the whole thing fell out and I got it. This author writes with the absurdist sense of early Iris Murdoch.
She comports herself with the linguistic showmanship of Michael Chabon. Woke Up Lonely is a satirical social critique, a modern day romance, a literary thriller, and a tragedy that as it turns out, is also comedy. In my second reading, I am laughing. I am not worried about bruising any ribs though. I've come through denial, anger, and bargaining.
We are in deep trouble. I am depressed and don't plan on achieving acceptance.
The Lonely Heart’s Club: Fiona Maazel’s “Woke Up Lonely” - Los Angeles Review of Books
In the final scene comes the ultimate mockery of achieving acceptance. Instead, I challenge readers to finish this book and report back. Mar 16, Jodi rated it really liked it Shelves: read. Read more. Aug 31, Casey rated it it was amazing. This book is great! The language is so strong, and the story's action chugs ahead without pausing to breathe. But then, when you're finished, you can think back on all of the poignant moments of the novel.
Because there are a lot of them. Read this one in April Apr 01, Sara rated it did not like it Shelves: stopped-reading. If I read the word "wrest" one more time, I am done. I really loved this book. It's sad, lovely, funny, strange, and fantastical. It's complex and multi-layered, challenging without being difficult to read. That being said, I get that some people won't feel the same way about it. In fact, some of the negative reviews on GoodReads are what encouraged me to read it. Many of the complaints trying to hard to be like David Foster Wallace, overly complex sentences, lots of disconnected character story lines, etc.
That's okay! Books don't have to be universally loved to be excellent. I do want to disagree with the common comparison of Maazel's novel to David Foster Wallace. I found it closer to something by George Saunders. Saunder's earlier short stories and novellas are all about loneliness and guilt mixed with a funhouse view of reality most commonly bizarre theme parks. But since you could probably describe Wallace that way too, I suppose it's close enough. I guess "loneliness and guilt set in slightly fantastical versions of reality" is a subgenre of literary fiction.
Sign me up. This book really works on multiple levels, by which I mean that the thematic content is expressed in by several methods. Many of the plot devices tie back to the main themes. For example, the most obvious the use of disguises and multiple lives: spy-craft is central and Esme is a master of disguises, of course, though many other characters are also harboring secrets; the loneliness cult is both a support group and a potential armed force; in fact, the entire city of Cincinnati lives a double life. To me, these all tie back to the everyday struggle to deal with loneliness, accept or forget our pasts, and connect with other people.
But there are also plenty of other threads woven through the story, such as obsession, the struggle for control over nature, and the burden of our pasts, each cropping up over and over, sometimes explicitly, and sometimes in asides or descriptions of the landscape. I also think the multiple levels happens from the bottom up, with the structure itself reflecting the content.
The novel jumps between characters and switches from third to first person, and forces the reader to make a connection between these disconnections. The whole book itself therefore plays with the disconnection we all feel.
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At first it took me a while to follow the story of someone I considered a minor or less central character until I realized that these alternate paths were just as critical. This book isn't about how two protagonists are lonely, it's about loneliness on a grand scale. Nothing is wrapped up neatly, and, in fact, just about everything is wrapped up messily or not at all. But, at the same time, I was so moved by where all the characters ended up, and by the small resolutions they achieved. In fact, if there is a larger point to this book I believe it's about not letting the search for greater resolution obscure the simple release.
All of these characters are desperate for connection and compassion and want to banish all loneliness from their lives, but the novel shows us that maybe just a day or an hour of that kind of connected intimacy is enough to support us through all the rest. Quick plot synopsis. This could be the synopsis for a brilliant piece of litera Quick plot synopsis. This could be the synopsis for a brilliant piece of literature, or for something totally lame. I thought Woke Up Lonely tended towards the latter. I was captivated by the tone of the writing every time I picked this up. It's clever and biting and often left me in awe.
But setting aside some beautiful phrasing, I didn't think it worked as a novel. Interesting plot lines rose to the surface only to sink just as quickly. Amazing characters were introduced only to be abandoned. The story was uneven and the conclusion disappointing. To summarise, the many brilliant parts weren't successfully woven into a whole.
I'm going to finish with a rant. A few weeks ago, I started following someone on this site - her reviews totally awesome. A couple of days later she announced that she would only be reading books from female authors from now on and that she was comfortable with this decision.
Wow, how bizarrely reverse-sexist! The only reason I bring this up is that I'm not sure what the sex of an author has to do with the content of a novel - Woke Up Lonely is a case in point. There's nothing 'feminine' about the writing. With a rather silly boys-own plot, generous helpings of smut that would be at home at a male frat house and extreme objectification of women, it a perfect demonstration that literature does not need to be genderized.
I get disappointed when a novel is judged on anything but its content. Aug 06, Michele Weiner rated it really liked it. The Helix is a belief system - like Scientology in structure - that takes over the lives of its adherents. It was founded by Thurlow Dan, who was looking for a way to feel connected to his loved ones. Even after his marriage to Esme, a sort of super government agent, and the birth of their daughter Ida, Lo cannot deal with intimacy.
He expects too much and expects to fail and he runs away to form his group of deluded searchers. There is some sex involved. Esme has a factotum who makes her incred The Helix is a belief system - like Scientology in structure - that takes over the lives of its adherents. Esme has a factotum who makes her incredible disguises so that she can infiltrate organizations without being identified.
The problem is, while supposedly gathering information on Lo so that the government can shut him down and maybe prosecute, she has secretly been preventing the government from doing same - protecting him. Although not gifted at loving or parenting, Esme cannot give up on her husband.
The climax comes as Thurlow, realizing that his elaborate system of control isn't working for him, kidnaps four agents, specially picked by Esme to be incompetent, and struggles to figure out his next move. In the process, we discover what Esme has been up to all these years, why the US government is concerned about Thurlow's activities, and what the heck is happening underneath Cincinnati.
This is a very weird book. I loved the inventive nature of the plot, the portrayal of Esme was perfection. She is irreverent, unique, invincible, persistent, sexy and sarcastic. The problem for me was the core issue of isolation; failure to be able to feel that love was enough to get you through this life. I thought Thurlow was a dangerous fool and control freak and that Esme deserved better than she got.
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