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Lowboy

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  • Posted June 19, 2009

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    A wonderful dark tale of family, imagination, and urban mythology.

    A fairly quick but still thought-provoking read, Lowboy is part family drama, part exploration of mental illness and subjective reality, and part examination of New York City - in particular, its subway system - as a layered and mysterious breeding ground for impossible myths that intrude upon the real world.

    There are a lot of critics, writing teachers, and others who complain about "unreliable narrators" especially when it comes to the mentally ill, and this book is an excellent example of why those complaints shouldn't be taken too seriously. There are three central characters in this book, and none of their perceptions of reality can really be trusted as objective, though there are of course varying degrees. But the conflicting and yet overlapping worlds these characters live in - and the ability of the city itself to ill in the gaps and make any perception "true" - is fascinating to watch as the story unfolds.

    Anyone looking for more technical or historically accurate portrayals of the underground should probably look elsewhere, because while much of this book takes place in the tunnels underneath NYC, it's much more the subway system of urban myth than one of reality, with some additions of Wray's own such as a non-existent underground river running across Manhattan. But because of its very strong connections to the true atmosphere of the place the book has a way of making even the more improbable underground scenes feel like potential everyday events.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

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    A journey through a city and the mind of a troubled teenager

    Reading a book that places you in the mind of a schizophrenic can be a disturbing experience. Particularly when done with skill and subtlety. Even more so when it isn't to dramatize mental disturbance so much as to dramatize the world around the mentally disturbed.

    Wray's Lowboy is a story of a teenage schizophrenic as he is pursued by an emotionally isolated detective, and his bizarrely possessive mother. Lowboy's name is derived from two facts. First, his mental illness and the medications he takes for them suppress his sense of aliveness. Second, he has a particular fascination with the subway system. In fact, he barely surfaces, a them I will touch upon below.

    The story begins with Lowboy just released from his mental institute - he is off his meds and riding the train, convinced that he has to fulfill a mission: the world is set for destruction from global warming within 24 hours. Lowboy's idea of what he must do to save the world becomes the dramatic lynchpin of the story, and to say what it is would deny the reader of subtly unfolded plot point that doesn't become shocking until it's almost too late.

    Wray handles narrative shifts from the point of view of lucid characters, such as the detective on his case, to the wobbly subjectivity of Lowboy's mother, to Lowboy's askew yet insightful view of the world through schizophrenic eyes. It takes skill and finesse to tell the tale of a mad teengager from both outside and within his perspective without taking easy bait of dramatics.

    A fascinating device used by Wray is the juxtaposition of the world of the subway to the street level world. Interestingly, Lowboy is safest in the subway, whereas the only harm that befalls him takes place on the rare occasion that he emerges. I think it's fair to say that Wray wants to embed a moral here: though we relegate the disturbed to the submerged world of a major city, it might be the case that they are more civilized and gentle than the sane general population. It would be an exaggeration to say that this is Wray's main point, but nonetheless, it is a powerful sub-theme that permeates the mood of the story.

    Wray also gives us four wonderful characters. Besides Lowyboy, there is the hard to pin down mother as well as the righteous yet just as difficult to pin down detective. Marvelously, each is hard to get a hold of because of the polar opposites they occupy: mentally unstable vs. mentally rigorous. Last, Wray's great character is New York City itself - Wray allows the city to unfold through the character's various observations as well as in conveying small details, such as during a pursuit on foot on the West Side of Manhattan. The story of Lowboy would be less successful without this city looming in the background.

    In all, Wray has possibly given us a modern classic.

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    Posted April 28, 2011

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    Posted June 25, 2009

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    Posted November 11, 2010

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