Wednesday, May 14, 2008
This shall not be a typical review for me. Unlike virtually all others who have received review copies over the past few months, I have known at least some of the details of this story for almost four years now and instead of focusing directly on the story itself, I would rather concentrate on its genesis and some of its possible implications.
When I met Bakker at a Nashville booksigning in June 2004, he said to a small audience that consisted of some of his old grad school buddies from Vanderbilt and a couple of others (including myself) that he had recently begun writing a near-future thriller based on a dare from his then-fiancée Sharron, who preferred that genre over the epic fantasies that he enjoys reading/writing. But early on, from what I recall from a few email conversations and interviews that he did with me and with others, he decided to mix in elements of his Ph.D. dissertation and craft a tale that would be provocative, unsettling, and if the reader were willing to commit to the Argument that he presents in the book, something that might be harrowing for a year. Needless to say, all of this interested me, especially in regards to questions revolving around choice, free will, and the possible illusory natures of both. While we disagreed then (and now) on some of the particulars (I am much more optimistic about matters regarding both), Bakker's questions sparked quite a few thoughts that occupied my waking and sometimes sleeping hours.
Fast-forward to February 2006. Bakker had just completed a complete revision of this thriller, called Neuropath, and he asked me and Jay Tomio if we would like to read the draft while he and his agent would attempt to sell this story. He warned us beforehand that it was a "difficult" story and one that likely would not be appealing to the majority out there due to its visceral qualities and its disturbing questions. Undaunted, I agreed to read the draft.
The draft was everything he said and more. It is a very bleak novel, with its few lighter moments serving only to set up even more devastating revelations. And unlike most thrillers, there was no catharsis at the end. Instead, the ending is so chilling, so personal in a sense that I was sucked into imagining myself in the place of the protagonist, Thomas Bible. There was no redemption, no "saving moment." Instead, it closes with a realization that the traumas endured, the horrors realized, all of those were but the stripping away of protective layers; I felt exposed afterwards. Made for quite a downer for a couple of days, as even my dreams dealt with the implications of what was shown in that novel. Totally unlike 99% of the other novels that I've read over the course of almost 30 years of reading.
Bakker was correct in noting that this would be a tough sell, as it took well over a year to find publishers that would release the book. Talking about matters involving the manipulation of the mind (and therefore the body) does not make for a pleasant read, regardless of how well-written and plotted the novel might be. Considering that Neuropath utilizes some of the tropes of the thriller genre, perhaps it might be best to discuss how well it succeeds on that level.
The few thrillers that I've read tend to be short, sharp staccato bursts of dialogue and action that moves at a fast clip to a (somewhat) telegraphed conclusion. Neuropath on the other hand, while it nails the tense, frightening scenes that drive the early portion of the novel, might be odd and disjointed to thriller fans because there is so much exposition. Those who don't want to think while they're reading a plot-heavy novel probably will find Thomas Bible's reminisces about his friend-turned-FBI suspect Neil Cassidy to be rather long and distracting from the plot. For the first 200 pages of this 300 page novel, Bible's thoughts, his self-denials, his worries, his fears dominate the book, creating a sensation of a sputtering start perhaps for those who desire a head-on adrenaline rush.
However, the final third of the novel is packed full of surprising revelations, horrifying actions, and a twist ending that does serve to provide a definitive end to the action, if not to the implications that led up to that action. It is a suitable conclusion, but not necessarily the one that most readers would want, but it does flow quite nicely with the "Argument" between Bible and Cassidy that is threaded throughout the novel.
It is strange novel to review. It meets its purposes and is written well. It creates an emotional connection with the reader, but through appealing to the fallacy of reason than by any real attachment to the characters. There is nothing cathartic about its conclusion to offset its disturbing implications. It is not a story that will make someone feel better for having read it. But it is a tale that does make a strong connection and as such, if one engages in the "Argument," it might be a moving book, but if one fails to engage in that "Argument," the book and its premise will be utterly unappealing. Therefore, I can only recommend Neuropath, despite its merits and despite my personal appreciation of what Bakker has accomplished here, to those who are willing to engage their minds with what is transpiring in the text.
Publication Date: May 2008 (UK); June 2008 (Canada); unknown US release date
Publishers: Orion (UK); Penguin Canada (Canada)