Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Resurrectionist

"Jack O'Connell has labored in obscurity for many years; this will be the novel that garners him widespread sales and critical acclaim. The Resurrectionist—a brilliantly tuned, mesmerizing labyrinth of a quasi-real world as only a master artist could draw it—will jazz you, floor you, grab you and shake you and leave you hung out to dry in that world. A brilliant break-through novel."
—James Ellroy

The Resurrectionist

Sweeney is a druggist by trade; Danny, his son, is in a persistent coma, the victim of an accident. Hoping for a miracle, they have come to the Peck Clinic, a fortress-like haven in a post-industrial city overrun by gangs. Doctors there claim to have resurrected two patients who were similarly lost in the void.

Gradually, Sweeney realizes that the cure for his son’s condition may lie in “Limbo,” a fantasy comic-book world into which Danny had been drawn at the time of his accident. Plunged into the intrigue that surrounds the clinic, Sweeney searches for answers and instead finds sinister back alleys, brutal dead ends, and terrifying rabbit holes of mystery.

Full of puzzles and surprises, The Resurrectionist is a surreal, gothic meditation on identity, the nature of consciousness, the power of stories, love, mad scientists, circus freaks, and ultimately forgiveness—both giving and receiving.

Ed here: I've been reading Jack O'Connell since the 90s. With his first novel BOX NINE O'Connell staked out turf that is very much all his own. While the "cyberpunk Hammett" description is useful as a a hook it doesn't do justice the dazzling assaults O'Connell makes on language, reality and the political structures and structures of our time.

It also doesn't do justice to the fact that with all the Philip K. Dickian terra-forming you find especially in The Resurrectionist, the novel works most profoundly on the level of sheer great storytelling. It's a great and moving tale about a father and son.

Jack was kind enough to answer some questions.

1. Jack, I have the sense that the central drama of the book came to you first--the father and son. That you built everything else around it. I say this because it could easily have been a polemic but it's not. It's a powerful and in some ways simple story.

My son was 5 or 6 years old when I started working on the book. He turns 13 next month. So, all the while I was noodling away on the story, I was also, always, brooding about the endless intricacies of fatherhood. You’re exactly right: so much of this story just grew, organically, out of that relentless sense, really, that worry, that you’re not up to the immensity of the task of protecting, shaping, understanding. Of course, in the end, none of us are. And that may be the only reason we’re all able to find our own identities.

2. The way you've worked out the storyline for "Limbo" makes me wonder what you think about our society's obsession with gaming and giant movies that don't bother with character or any kind of emotional reality.

Well, as you know from e-mails we’ve swapped over the years, I never feel more elderly than when I go to the Cineplex. (I particularly can’t bear the way action movies are edited – it’s just plain perverse to me. As if some insane person started teaching film classes about 10 years back and told the future cutters: make it as obscure as possible; make the perspective utterly illogical; and cut so fast that no one can follow any POV. Okay, rant over.) I mean, it’s undeniable, just self-evident, that characterization has been sacrificed on the altar of spectacle. I think back to a conversation I had about 15+ years ago when a friend said his kids couldn’t sit through High Noon because it was too slow. All I could think of was the first time I saw High Noon – that sense of slowly mounting dread, that sense of inevitably fate rolling toward you. I felt what it was like to be in Cooper’s skin. And to me, that was a triumph of popular art. That ability to use story to make our understanding of our own humanity fully visceral. That was the achievement, the big grace, the heart and the art and smart of that film.

3. The Peck Clinic certainly plays into our fear about secret and deadly forces at work in our society. Your novels have been called "paranoid" but given the present administration's taste for shredding constitutional guarantees, do you feel that you may not be paranoid at all?

Ha! What was that bumpsticker we used to see on microbuses – “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Yes, I’m a functional paranoid. But one would have to be ferociously ignorant of, blind to, recent history to deny the rabid, geometrically growing lust for all manner of technological social control exhibited by both the state and the (probably more frightening and problematic) transnational congloms. My gut says we’re racing toward some pretty ugly decisions in the near future. And concurrently, our capacity for ethical courage – not to mention depth of thought -- seems near empty. Most saddening is the rise of the idiocracy – we’re more literate than ever, have fairly easy access to an abundance of real information – and civic discourse races for the gutter every day.

4. The Resurrectionist is certainly your most daring and accomplished novel. How long did you work on it and what was it like trying to balance family, work and writing (and I mean this) a masterpiece all at the same time?

Took me a full 5 years to write this one. Longer – by double – than any of my other books. (For a while the title was “The Book That Killed Him,” because I figured that’s how my kids would refer to it in years to come.). The fact is, looking back, I didn’t balance any of those things that make up my life. You know, you just sort of see which fire is most in need of some put-out each day. But as tends to happen for me, the process of composition is the thing that allows me to gradually understand what my story is really about. In a lot of ways, that ideal balance to which you refer is in the marrow of this book. And writing the story helped me to learn to accept, maybe even embrace, a truth that is always somewhat less than the ideal. In a funny and unexpected way, I think writing the book helped me to understand my real priorities and, once I’d done that, to integrate aspects of my life that had been fairly compartmentalized.

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