Half World: A Novel

Half World: A Novel

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by Scott O'Connor
     
 

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In the 1950s, the CIA began a clandestine operation known as Project MKULTRA, in which unwitting American citizens were subjected to insidious drug and mind-control experiments. In the two decades the program ran, a nation’s trust was betrayed and countless lives—and families—were destroyed.

Haunted and inspired by these real-life events,

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Overview

In the 1950s, the CIA began a clandestine operation known as Project MKULTRA, in which unwitting American citizens were subjected to insidious drug and mind-control experiments. In the two decades the program ran, a nation’s trust was betrayed and countless lives—and families—were destroyed.

Haunted and inspired by these real-life events, acclaimed novelist Scott O’Connor has crafted a riveting, tour de force literary thriller that vividly imagines the devastating emotional legacy of such a program through the eyes of one of its more unexpected victims. CIA analyst Henry March, an unassuming “company man” forced to spearhead MKULTRA’s San Francisco branch, finds himself bridging an untenable divide between his devotion to his wife and children—his beloved Hannah and sweet autistic Thomas—and the brutality of his daily task. Torn between duty and conscience, Henry’s own identity begins to fray, until he finally reaches the ultimate breaking point. Amid the wreckage, Henry March disappears without a trace, taking with him the evidence of his sins and becoming the deepest ULTRA mystery of all.

Twenty years later, as the country struggles under the weight of the Vietnam War, another troubled young agent will risk everything to find Henry, protect Hannah, and piece together the staggering aftermath of the crimes before it’s too late.

Hailed as “one to watch” (Los Angeles Times), especially for his ability “to make something beautiful of unspeakable matters” (The New York Times), O’Connor has crafted a stunning, sensitive, and psychologically astute look at the depths to which a government will sink in service of its own power and the strength required of the human spirit to set itself free. Gorgeous and unflinching, Half World is both a page-turning drama and a transcendent celebration of our enduring capacity for hope.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
11/25/2013
O’Connor takes one of the more reprehensible chapters in CIA history—the drug-induced MKULTRA mind-control experiments of the 1950s and ’60s—as fodder for his sluggish second novel (after 2011’s Untouchable). In 1956, agency analyst Henry March, professionally stained by his partner’s defection to the Soviets, is relocated from CIA headquarters to San Francisco to help run the project. From behind a two-way mirror in a Telegraph Hill apartment, he observes and takes notes on people who have been lured there by prostitutes and drugged with various mind-altering substances. About a third of the way into the story, the guilt-wracked Henry purposely vanishes, at which point O’Connor jumps ahead 20 years. The narrative finds Henry’s daughter, Hannah, struggling professionally and emotionally in Los Angeles, unaware that CIA assassins have been looking for her father all this time. O’Connor writes with grace and force, but the punch and historical intrigue of this effort evaporates after its disorienting chronological shift. Agent: Yishai Seidman, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Feb.)
Booklist (starred review)

“Half World is a stunningly grim and emotionally harrowing read and an astute and evocative portrayal of government paranoia during the Cold War and Vietnam War eras.”
The New York Times Book Review
Praise for Untouchable:

"Scott O'Connor speaks softly and somehow manages to make something beautiful of unspeakable matters... a voice so insistently stirring, you want to lean in close to catch every word."

Crimespree magazine
"Once in a very long time, a book comes along that resonates and sings with heart. It's characters so real you want to touch them, hug them. . . .And when it is over you wish you could read it all for the first time, again. That is how good this book is."
The Boston Globe
"O'Connor writes with vivid descriptive detail and acute psychological insight, as well as flashes of searing, wry humor and occasional moments that simply break your heart."
The Daily Beast
"Gripping...The perfect book for our present moment."
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
“Tender, haunting, exquisitely profound… an eloquent celebration of familial love made all the more poignant by tragedy.”
National Book Award finalist and author of The Sojourn - Andrew Krivak
"Half World is all in. A taut and suspenseful narrative. Well-wrought flawed characters. Prose that is pitch perfect. The truth is, Scott O’Connor is a beautiful, sage-like, and terrifying writer."
award-winning author of Volt - Alan Heathcock
"Scott O'Connor's Half World is like being granted clearance to classified files about a bizarre and fascinating moment in our nation's history—this is literary suspense of the highest order, and with every page I was intrigued a bit more, horrified a bit more, until I felt I, too, had been brainwashed and found it impossible to stop reading this beautifully written and utterly compelling novel. Now I must read it again. Now I must..."
TheNew York TimesBook Review
Praise for Untouchable:

"Scott O'Connor speaks softly and somehow manages to make something beautiful of unspeakable matters... a voice so insistently stirring, you want to lean in close to catch every word."

Booklist
"O'Connor's prose is as beautifully terse as his plot... squeezing the reader's emotions so that when the myth of the "perfect" family begins to dissolve... it feels like the inevitable waking from a halcyon dream."
Barnes & NobleDiscover Great New Writers
“Tender, haunting, exquisitely profound… an eloquent celebration of familial love made all the more poignant by tragedy.”
Crimespreemagazine
"Once in a very long time, a book comes along that resonates and sings with heart. It's characters so real you want to touch them, hug them. . . .And when it is over you wish you could read it all for the first time, again. That is how good this book is."
San Diego City Beat - Jim Ruland
“Bring[s] the darkness in bold and daring ways…reminiscent of Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust.”
Buzzine - M.C. Wood
“O’Connor maps the territory of dread and despair that makes the reader ache, that will not let the reader alone, even long after the last page of this beautifully written novel has been turned. With deft, precise, almost Hemingwayesque language, O’Connor has written a story that is deeply poignant.”
author of A Prayer for Dawn and In the Light of You - Nathan Singer
"The world of Scott O'Connor's debut novel is tough, worn, and thoroughly lived in, and is as vivid and painfully honest as anything I've read in a very long time. Do not sleep on Untouchable, this is the real thing."
bestselling author of The Adjustment and The Ice Harvest - Scott Phillips
"One of those books you can hardly stand to stuff the bookmark in at the end of the night. Terrific."
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Praise for Among Wolves:

"O'Connor is one to watch."

author of The Virgin of Flames and GraceLand - Chris Abani
"O'Connor shows the beauty, the complex blend of dirty truth and high ideals that reveal the human in all of us with an intimacy, elegiac gravitas and deep respect. A strong voice."
Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-25
The hunters are the haunted in a thriller from Los Angeles–based author O'Connor (Untouchable, 2011, etc.) that mines the depths of fact and fiction. This is a book of halves--split between 1956 and 1972. Henry Gladwell is very good at what he does: breaking men through involuntary drug experiments for the CIA in San Francisco in 1956. Across the bay in Oakland, he is Henry March, a husband, father and calculating man obsessed with his dirty work. His daughter lives in fear of atomic disaster, his son is autistic, a railroad train in a human body, and Henry fights the horror of himself, pushing away from them all. "He could not be there, in the house. Not with what he carried." It is a world of "ghosts" that is intimately gripping. Henry disappears at the end of an LSD torture session that has gone wrong. The tough, pragmatic CIA spook is broken, utterly and finally. Sixteen years later, another operative, Richard Ashby, takes on a cover as Dickie Hinkle, put into motion by a new set of controls in Washington. Dickie creeps through a seedy Los Angeles hunting a band of bank robbers who leave pamphlets on government conspiracies in the pockets of their victims. Someone has connected the dots--the leather-bound ledger that Henry maintained on his experiments to the irrational pamphlets to a series of pulp novels based on psychiatric torture--all circling the illicit CIA experiments with Stormy, their pet name for LSD. O'Connor writes with fire, moving the story along briskly. Hannah, Henry's daughter, becomes the "ghost catcher," teamed with Dickie to find her lost father. Photography is the parallel passion between father and daughter, and in this dark world, photographs are the only handhold on reality. An invigorating historical thriller that examines the boundaries of man.
Booklist (Starred Review)
"O’Connor’s spare prose amplifies the horror of his story. It also compels the reader to inhabit his characters’ lives. Half World is a stunningly grim and emotionally harrowing read and an astute and evocative portrayal of government paranoia during the Cold War and Vietnam War eras."
Library Journal
01/01/2014
O'Connor (Untouchable) creates a fictional account of the infamous CIA program that subjected unwitting Americans to mind-control experiments using drugs and other methods of brainwashing. The story begins in 1956 as the March family heads west. Under scrutiny since his boss turned out to be a double agent, father Henry has been banished to a new program in San Francisco, a fact to which his family is largely oblivious. The new program involves testing drugs on the clients of prostitutes, experiments that gain intensity and spiral out of control. Jump to 1972 and the viewpoint of Dickie Ashby, a young vet on the fringes of the MKULTRA program, whose own terrifying adventures will connect him to the remains of the March family. VERDICT O'Connor is a gifted stylist, and he vividly captures the rabbit hole that swallows agents, their families, and their victims alike. The book works wonderfully as long as the March family remains the focus. Readers may get disoriented as it becomes difficult to distinguish victims from perpetrators in later iterations of the program. The story is fascinating, but readers will have to judge its authenticity for themselves: most of the MKULTRA records were destroyed by the CIA in 1973.—Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781476716596
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
02/18/2014
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

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