Thursday, September 8, 2011

Q: A Novel by Evan Mandery — 368 pages

Q: A NovelWhen the unnamed protagonist of this unlikely and intriguing novel finds himself in love and about to marry a woman he affectionately calls Q, he receives a visit from his future self, who warns him that he must not marry her. At first he’s sceptical and unwilling to follow this other self’s directives. After a few more unpleasant meetings with the man he dubs I-60, the facts surrounding his and Q’s relationship become painfully clear, and it’s up to him to make a choice: Either jettison Q and find himself alone, or marry her and find themselves in horrible straits later on. After making the hardest decision of his life, our unnamed hero continues onward. But much to his chagrin, he’s visited again by an alternate self from a different future, with more advice. Annoyed that his future self seems to always contrive dinner meetings that are both expensive and exclusive, the protagonist realizes he must once again take charge of the situation and change the direction of his fate. But no matter what he does, the visits continue, and situations always need rectifying. In between visits, our unnamed hero contemplates the singular meaning of life, struggles to understand the complexities of evolution, and tries his hand at crafting the perfect novel of alternate history, becoming increasingly complicit in his future self’s plans for the advancements of his future. Both absurd and highly original, Q tells the story of fate interrupted, and shares the intimate thoughts of the man who spends his time, and his future, interrupting it.

I would have to classify this book as riding the edge of absurdist literature, and due to my recent discovery and appreciation of this genre, I think I was unusually receptive to both the tale and the author’s very complex but winning way of relating it. It was the kind of book that came totally out of left field, but kept me laughing and, more importantly, thinking. Mandery has a way of getting to the crux of several different issues, and as the book winds it way through various plot points, he also spends chapter after chapter elucidating these subjects in a very pleasing manner. At certain points, I thought his highbrow attempts at humor and instruction would lose me, but I began to find that, with careful reading, I was able to hang on all the way through, much to my delight.

The time travel that brings our unnamed hero back to his past self isn’t fully explained, and other than the basics, the reader never learns much about how or why it works. In some respects, the time travel itself is the subject of jokes and odd speculations by the protagonist, but it’s never examined closely. More often than not, we are instead treated to intensive and complex philosophical discussions that revolve around the essence of life, the quandaries that surround the evolution of the species, and the transcendental aspects of life and love. The book is part speculative novel and part physiological treatise that manages to avoid being overly stiff and pedantic and instead falls into the category of well constructed and thoughtful exploration of life and its various importances and meanings.

Part of this tale revolves around the various changes the future selves propose and the unnamed protagonist’s adherence to change his life according to their tutelage. It is funny to watch him contort himself into all these different lifestyles, but as I was reading, I began to see that the ultimate message of the book revolved around the futility of life and the decisions we make, thinking they will change and shape our future for the better. In some ways it was a bit nihilistic, but nevertheless, there was an element of truth to it all that was presented in a way that was not only clever, but not overly depressing either, which was impressive given the circumstances that the book was attempting to decipher. Who’s to say that the life decisions we make today will ultimately have the impact we so desire in the future? Mandery examines this is a playful and entertaining way, but the message he seeks to impart is clear and well delivered. In his attempts to make his point, he illustrates it through the life of one man who is willing to do anything to avoid fates that are less than kind to him. Even so, things are made a hash of, and one begins to see that no matter how you order your days, there is really only so much you can control.

The other component of this book that is definitely worth mentioning is its above average humor and creativity. Some books are able to be either smart of funny, but not both. This book doesn’t have to choose one or the other because it excels at being both. Whether he is examining pop culture, little known bits of history or random assignations of the past, Mandery manages to be not only elegant and understandable, but uproariously funny to boot. Pillow dancing festivals and Frued’s amateur attempts at discovering the location of the testes in eels aside, one wonders how much of this book is based on an absurd version of truth, and how much spring forth from Mandery’s imagination. Whatever the case, his storytelling abilities are top-notch, and I can’t even begin to do them justice. There is no discernible direction in this book, which is excellent because everything seems to come perfectly out of left field and manages to linger in the reader’s mind just long enough to be penetrating, only scooting off the stage when the next unexpected tangent comes running through. It was a brilliant feat of imagination, and I was thoroughly impressed by it all.

I would honestly have to say this book is more a thinking adventure than one that you can just let wash over you, but please don’t let that description deter you! It was a solidly crafted tale that went the extra mile to be both humorous and weighty, all done with such panache that it would be a shame for you to miss it. I loved this book and thought that Mandery’s organization of his ideas and his playfulness was extremely satisfying, not to mention curious and strange. If you’re curious, I would advise picking this one up. It’s smart and at times very blithe and just plain good fun. Very highly recommended!


Author Photo About the Author

Evan Mandery is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, and the author of two works each of fiction and nonfiction.

Visit Evan at his website, evanmandery.com.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, August 23rd:Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, August 24th:Books Like Breathing
Thursday, August 25th:Reviews from the Heart
Monday, August 29th:Amusing Reviews
Tuesday, August 30th:Life In Review
Wednesday, August 31st:The Bodacious Pen
Thursday, September 1st:The Scarlet Letter
Tuesday, September 6th:The Lost Entwife
Thursday, September 8th:Sara’s Organized Chaos
Friday, September 9th:Raging Bibliomania


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

17 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds like one would have to be in the right mood to be receptive to this! Thanks for the interesting analysis!

Biblibio said...

I have a feeling this is one of those books that comes down to character and writing. The story can go either way - either you can accept the unexplained time travel (which I often can't), or you can find it tiresome and cheap. But with the right kind of humor, the right kind of character building, the right kind of writing, an author could nonetheless write a very good book...

TheBookGirl said...

Pillow dancing and eels testes??

Okay...

I have yet to try the absurdist literature genre. Your enthusiasm for this one has me curious, I must admit. It seems like one might have to work at this book but that there is a payoff in the end.

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I received this one for review, and I really want to read it. It sounds like a different type of read for me. Great review!

Trisha said...

I really like this premise. It's strange to think of, as you say, fate interrupted, and how that would seriously alter not your future, but your present, and how you lived your life.

heathertlc said...

I like a book that makes me think, and this one sounds funny and smart at the same time. I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for being on the tour.

reviewsbylola said...

I am so excited to read this one. it sounds like it will give me a lot to mull over.

bermudaonion said...

A book that makes me laugh and think? Count me in!!

Erin said...

"Some books are able to be either smart of funny, but not both." That's so true! Finding one that's both is always exciting. This book sounds excellent, and I am noting it down for whenever I have a bit of reading down time next. Here's hoping my library has it! Excellent review!

Jenny said...

Huh, this sounds like a weird book but I am definitely intrigued!

Aarti said...

This sounds really interesting! I have an absurdist tale on my shelf called Sheppard Lee that I want to read but, like Jill, think I need to be in the right mood for. This book sounds like it could be really great, though, if the character is one with whom you can empathize and sympathize.

Aths said...

This is a book that I was really looking forward to. But for the premise, I doubt it will work much for me. I find it bothering when time travel is used in books as a toy and never fully explained nor examined. Still, I'll probably read it if I come across it sometime. Loved your review!

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

This is SO very much my cup of tea. I love the concept and I've yet to hear anything negative about it, though, everyone has said that it's a bit unusual.

Geosi said...

Curious I am and would try laying hands on a copy. Seems deeply satisfying as from your review.

irisonbooks said...

I did really enjoy this one, even if there were a few moments in the book that made me not love it unconditonally. But really, I'm being critical here because it was one of my favourite reads of the past few months.

Jules said...

This does look like a book I'd like. I like the idea of "future" selves disrupting life and affecting the characters decisions. Looks like an engaging and thought-proving read. I wonder what I'd do if that happened to me.

Jenners said...

I am drawn to the description of this book like a fly to honey!! Lord knows I could have used visits from my future self at various points in my life!!! Great review … it is going on my list!

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