John Wray

Read the first two brief passages—the first is five sentences, the second is seven—and you must begin the third and turn the page. The quality of writing rarely droops.johnwray-lowboy

From “Lowboy:”

“Trains were easier to consider. There were thousands of them in the tunnel, pushing ghost trains of compressed air ahead of them, and every single one of them had a purpose. The train he was on was bound for Bedford Park Boulevard. Its coat-of-arms was a B in Helvetica type, rampant against a bright orange escutcheon. The train to his grandfather’s house had that same color: the color of wax fruit, of sunsets painted on velvet, of light through half-closed eyelids at the beach.”

Such a fine build-up to three killer images–wax fruit, sunsets painted on velvet, light through half-closed eyelids.

How can you not read and smile?

Will Heller travels around New York are primarily underground. When you read, you breathe the subterranean air. Wray has said he wrote as much of the novel as possible while riding around the subway system in New York and it shows. Will—a.k.a. “Lowboy”—interprets everything around him from his peculiar point of view about global warming and his role in solving the crisis. Sound heavy-handed? It’s not.

Quote from John Wray via

“What saved me from a lot of the pitfalls of writing about mental illness, I think, was less any particular agenda or approach to the issue itself than a general aversion to cliché. If you avoid all the shortcuts and laziness rampant in most depictions of schizophrenia (and in most fiction, in general, as far as that goes) you’ll spare yourself no end of grief.
…I actually felt quite at home in Lowboy’s consciousness, and not in any hurry to leave. Schizophrenia is hands-down the most fascinating subject I’ve ever delved into, and I still feel that I’ve only scratched the surface.”

Woven into Lowboy’s travels is a taut and interesting relationship between Will’s mother Violet and the detective who is helping her find the missing boy. These are two unusual people. For instance, the detective has a love-hate relationship with the smell of toner. Violet paints lips and other parts on store mannequins. Their conversations are colorful and full of unspoken tension. There are a few wonderful surprises in the book and Violet owns one of them. When it comes, it sizzles on the page and forces you to flip back in your mind through what you’ve already read. Nice.

The mild letdown is the end, where events get cloudy and the precision of events drifts.  One of the challenges of writing about teenage paranoid schizophrenic is that the license is open-ended. The rules are few. Anything is permissible. For me, the end sagged. Minor quibble.

Worth reading, no question. Wray is an artist.


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