The 2014 Tournament of Books is here, and The Voyage Out will be spending a lot of time over the next month or so talking about this wonderfully book nerdy thing. I hope you enjoy our coverage.
Fiona Maazel is a word nerd. She must be. Woke Up Lonely is so full of $5 dollar words, that you can study for your SAT’s just by reading it. Most book nerds are also word nerds (punctuation nerds, too). The thing is, though, I’m not that into words. They are, to me, the most overrated thing in literature. I don’t take pleasure in vocabulary. I always hope that the author will find the simplest, shortest way to the solution. By solution I mean, the best way to tell the story. This love of simple language has served me well. Authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, JM Coetzee, and Kenzaburo Oe have always proven me right in my contention that the ideal is a book that is written with the fewest words possible.
Woke Up Lonely has thrown me for a loop. It’s over written, over wordy, and over plotted. Things happen that can’t and people exist that shouldn’t. It’s the opposite of simple, and opposite of what I normally go for, but it’s phenomenal. Super good. It’s not your quotidian novel. See that, I’m a changed man.
What’s to like? Well… cults, North Korea, spies, mothers, daughters, fathers, bad fathers, sex by old people (or middle aged), loneliness, love, philosophy, cloud planting, entitled rich people, revolutionary poor people, crazy, crazy, crazy… All of this is wrapped up in one of the most tightly mashed novels I’ve ever read. Maazel can’t possibly manage all that this book is in a clean, organized way, so she doesn’t. The book just starts running, and doesn’t stop.
Where is all this running going? Well it goes big and it goes small. Big is Thurlow Dan, who started a simple idea called the Helix, which is a way to end loneliness. The thing about this idea is that it worked, at least partially and superficially. Dan becomes a global icon and hugely powerful. Small is Thurlow Dan, who is a global icon who abandoned his wife and daughter. Now all he wants is to get them back, and he’ll do anything to make it happen. Big and small collide. Comedy and tragedy ensue. There is a lot more. A lot LOT more, but that’s not for here. You’ll be entertained. You’ll also think.
This book got a bad draw in that it got slotted into the play in round against Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Atkinson is kinda a giant, and I expect her to go far. Even though I’m not sure if Maazel will be able to advance against Atkinson, I hope that she does. I think Woke Up Lonely is what this tournament is about—drawing attention to smaller books and mid list or young writers. I would not have read this book had it not been in this competition. Now that I have, I will read everything Maazel writes from now on. I am a fan in perpetuity (see what I did there).