Lowboy: A Novel

Lowboy: A Novel

3.8 15
by John Wray
     
 

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Early one morning in New York City, Will Heller, a sixteen-yearold paranoid schizophrenic, gets on an uptown B train alone. Like most people he knows, Will believes the world is being destroyed by climate change; unlike most people, he's convinced he can do something about it. Unknown to his doctors, unknown to the police--unknown even to Violet Heller, his devoted

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Overview

Early one morning in New York City, Will Heller, a sixteen-yearold paranoid schizophrenic, gets on an uptown B train alone. Like most people he knows, Will believes the world is being destroyed by climate change; unlike most people, he's convinced he can do something about it. Unknown to his doctors, unknown to the police--unknown even to Violet Heller, his devoted mother--Will alone holds the key to the planet's salvation. To cool down the world, he has to cool down his own overheating body: to cool down his body, he has to find one willing girl. And he already has someone in mind.

Lowboy, John Wray's third novel, tells the story of Will's fantastic and terrifying odyssey through the city's tunnels, back alleys, and streets in search of Emily Wallace, his one great hope, and of Violet Heller's desperate attempts to locate her son before psychosis claims him completely. She is joined by Ali Lateef, a missing-persons specialist, who gradually comes to discover that more is at stake than the recovery of a runaway teen: Violet--beautiful, enigmatic, and as profoundly at odds with the world as her son--harbors a secret that Lateef will discover at his own peril.

Suspenseful and comic, devastating and hopeful by turns, Lowboy is a fearless exploration of youth, sex, and violence in contemporary America, seen through one boy's haunting and extraordinary vision.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Lindgren
…dizzyingly seductive …Making your central character deeply insane is, of course, a risky and ambitious trick, but Wray carries it off with a fluid, inventive style that rises at times to a frightening pitch. Lowboy is an amplified hero for our times
—The Washington Post
Charles Bock
This is a meticulously constructed novel, immensely satisfying in the perfect, precise beat of its plot. Wray, however, has larger goals than a thrill ride. The book's core is a nexus of tragedy—the tragedy of a 17-year-old girl who, though she knows better, might do anything for the boy she loves; the tragedy of a mother whose life has been devoted to her son, yet who is incapable of helping him and who just may have been the source of his troubles; the tragedy of a middle-aged man caught between protecting the public and helping a parent; and finally, ultimately, the tragedy of a bright and beautiful teenager who not only must deal with all the confusions and pressures of being 16, but who, through no fault of his own, is not stable enough to be able to purchase a cupcake without confrontation. I'd be proud to be seen reading this novel on the downtown 6, or anywhere else at all.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Wray's captivating third novel drifts between psychological realities while exploring the narrative poetics of schizophrenia. The story centers on Will Heller, a 16-year-old New Yorker who has stopped taking his antipsychotic medication and wandered away from the mental hospital into the subway tunnels believing that the world will end within a few hours and that only he can save it. It's a novel that defies easy categorization, although in one sense it's a mystery, as a detective, Lateef, is on the case, assisted by Will's troubled mother, Violet. As Lateef tracks Will and gains some startling insight into Violet, Wray deploys brilliant hallucinatory visuals, including chilling descriptions of the subway system and an imaginary river flowing beneath Manhattan. In his previous works, Wray has shown that he's not a stranger to dark themes, and with this tightly wound novel, he reaches new heights. (Mar.)

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Library Journal

Will Heller, aka Lowboy, is a brilliant but troubled 16-year-old paranoid schizophrenic in New York City. Recently escaped from a mental hospital and obsessed with the notion that the world is about to be destroyed by global warming, he boards the subway one morning seeking to save the world in the only way he believes it can be-by having sex with a woman. He attempts to locate former girlfriend Emily Wallace, whom he has not seen since he pushed her onto the subway tracks a year earlier, the act that led to his stay in a mental hospital. Throughout his daylong adventures in the tunnels and streets, he is pursued by police detective Ali Lateef and his mother, Violet, a woman with her own secrets, who seek to bring him home before he harms himself or others. Their growing relationship provides both a parallel and a counterpoint to that of Will and Emily. Wray presents a powerful and vivid portrait of Will's mental state, believably entering into his apocalyptic vision of the world. Recommended for public libraries.
—Lawrence Rungren

Kirkus Reviews
A teenaged paranoid schizophrenic risks his fragmenting grasp of reality in a quixotic attempt to save a world threatened by global warming, in Whiting Award winner Wray's deeply disturbing third novel. As in Wray's previous books (Canaan's Tongue, 2005, etc.), this one is constructed from several interconnected stories. The narrative is occupied with three searches. The primary one is that of 16-year-old Will Heller, who walks out of a mental hospital and into the New York subway system, en route to a desired reunion with the former schoolmate, Emily Wallace, who was both his prospective lover and a presumably accidental victim of Will's tendency to succumb to uncontrollable violence. The sources of such instability may lie in undisclosed experiences of sexual abuse or elsewhere in Will's troubled relationship with his Austrian-born mother Yda (he calls her "Violet"), whose search through her own past adds both explanatory exposition and subtle misdirection, as the reader struggles to comprehend Will's belief that "cooling" his own virginal body can avert a coming worldwide holocaust. The addled viewpoints of Will and Violet are challenged, and to some extent explained by the investigations of Ali Lateef, a weary SCM (Special Category Missings) police detective who senses that finding Will before he harms himself or others requires understanding the mysteries in Violet's occluded past. The novel has a thriller-like pace, and Wray keeps us riveted and guessing, finding chilling rhetorical and pictorial equivalents for Will's uniquely dysfunctional perspective (e.g., as he watches Emily approach: "A green girlshaped pillar rose through the veins of his retina like ivy twining through achain-link fence . . . Her features came apart like knitting"). The suspense is expertly maintained, straight through the novel's dreamlike climactic encounter and heart-wrenching final paragraph. The opening pages recall Salinger's Holden Caulfield, but the denouement and haunting aftertaste may make the stunned reader whisper "Dostoevsky." Yes, it really is that good.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429914536
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
03/03/2009
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
597,155
File size:
0 MB

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