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Familiar: A Novel Paperback – October 2, 2012
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“[An] allusive and mysterious novel . . . one of [Lennon's] finest.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“This is an important book, one that reflects the 21st-century human's fragmentary condition in both content and form, told in a manner so thrilling that it achieves an almost magical propulsion. It's very funny, too. . . . Lennon has created a woman for our times, no matter how many of our times are happening at once. Familiar is a terrific novel, unnerving and, ultimately, true.” ―Boston Globe
“Familiar is as tightly wound as a great Alfred Hitchcock movie. . . . He keeps Familiar balanced at a perfect pitch between allowing us to believe what has happened to Elisa is real and to think that she's had a mental breakdown brought about by anxiety and depression. In the scientific shadows, Lennon has executed a literary puzzle, a marvelous trick of the mind.” ―Los Angeles Times
“The questions posed by this novel shift over time from the metaphysical to the moral, and in the end, Familiar stands as a resonant and haunting riddle.” ―Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“Like Vonnegut, Lennon is able to defy genres. . . . Sad and captivating, Familiar explores the depths of loss and the limits of reality, leaving us to consider our susceptibility to the lives we create for ourselves.” ―The Outlet, the blog of Electric Literature
“Lennon's smart, chilling prose and the urgency of present tense carry this story to its dramatic, if ambiguous, conclusion. . . . A smart, fast-paced novel.” ―Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review
“A novel that imposes itself on the imagination from the opening sentences . . . Lennon's brisk prose is both vivid and precise; the dialogue is clear and authentic, often funny. In fact, considering that this is a deadly serious, often bewildering and affecting novel, Familiar is witty and satiric. It is obvious that its genius lies in Lennon's feel for metaphysical contradictions that consistently undercut the realism . . . a similar approach to the theme of parallel universes and altered experiences within shifting time frames has also been explored in novels such as Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 or Tom McCarthy's Remainder, neither of which achieves the unsettling mastery of Lennon's far shorter and infinitely superior novel, which could inspire a brilliant screenplay … Familiar is fresh and original; it is also disturbing in its strangeness, because that strangeness is eerily real.” ―The Irish Times
“The direct present-tense narration and instantly engaging plight prove an irresistible combination. . . . One of the clever things about the set-up here is how neatly it invigorates some of the drearier procedures of conventional fiction . . . a meditation on family and identity likely to stir brain and heart alike.” ―The Observer
“Lennon is an American writer whose novels delicately probe the psychology of their protagonists. . . . In Familiar Lennon uses his sci-fi vehicle to create eerie fiction. The notion of parallel universes becomes a metaphor for life choices and their results . . . immersion in her alternate realities prompts reflection upon the aleatory nature of our own life, in all its uncanniness.” ―The Independent on Sunday
“This highly convincing nightmare reads like a thriller; Lennon is painfully truthful about grief and parenthood.” ―The Times
“Tight in focus and construction and written in a steady present tense. . . . Lennon generally resists the comic and narrative possibilities available to his structure in favour of exploiting its capacity for generating metaphors and analogies--and by refusing to work his way through to a moment of sensible closure, ending instead at a point when things are at their most blurry and brain-teasing, he has constructed an otherworldly narrative that feels fleshed out but not stretched thin.” ―The Evening Standard
“J. Robert Lennon's beautifully written new novel bristles with menace and suspense--a terrific and disturbing read.” ―The Daily Mail
Top Customer Reviews
Author Robert Lennon gives us more than one way of viewing the cause of what's happening to Elisa. One is supernatural, the other not. As far as the story's concerned, it doesn't really mater what the answer is. What's important is that her new circumstances force Elisa to carefully reexamine fateful choices and accidental occurrences in her life. These include her career choices, her relationship to her husband and her children, all of which are quite different in the "new" life she finds herself living.
In the course of watching Elisa navigate a different life, "Familiar" covers a wide span of topics, including unhappy marriages and infidelity, couples therapy, dysfunctional families, spiteful, ungrateful children, body self-image, wish fulfillment, video games, internet culture, sci-fi conventions, and the differences between what is real and imagined in everyday life. Lennon's covering a lot (and I mean a lot) of ground here, especially considering that "Familiar" clocks in at a relatively brief 225 pages.
I think he pulls it off. Elisa's character is well developed, complex and feels quite substantial. The emotional turmoil that her alternate timeline forces her to confront is painful and sometimes bleak, not unlike real life for those of us stuck in a single timeline.Read more ›
But I couldn't put this book down.
Lennon has a real gift for writing prose that draws you along, making it one of those books where you keep saying, "only one more chapter," and then wondering where your afternoon is gone as you realize you're several chapters past the original pledge.
Suddenly one day while driving Elisa changes to a different Elisa, driving a different and new car. So now she must adjust somehow to making her way with Derek--he's the same Derek--without letting on that she is not who she was.
Were this plot in the hands of a lesser novelist, it would have crashed for me right there, just a quarter of the way through the novel. I have little toleration for novels that take me into any type of "twilight zone." But the Lennon novel is not a "twilight zone" read.
The novel is essentially about parenting, about how inadequate adults are at it, how ill equipped we are, how what we'd envisioned ourselves to be as parents is unrealistic. Elisa and Derek, the newly transformed Elisa, now have two adult sons. This is not a spoiler since all this happens soon on in the novel. Yes, Silas is alive. And Sam is straight. And they are living in San Francisco where Silas has a company that makes computer games, maybe successfully so, maybe not.Read more ›
A lab manager named Elisa Brown, aka, Lisa, finds herself suddenly in a new body living a different type of life. She has the same husband, Derek, two estranged sons, same home, only nicer. She is not sure how to react. Everyone notes she is acting differently. She is afraid to explain her situation, and she goes about finding a way to live this new life. She discovers her marriage is in jeopardy, her sons gone, all the while believing one son is dead. The family was more than dysfunctional to begin with. Lisa delves in the mysterious world of parallel universe, looking for answers.
"In a recent interview with the literary magazine Unstuck, Lennon described the book as "a horror novel about parenthood," and the shock of unfamiliar circumstances is ultimately overridden by Elisa's fear that she is destined to fail as a parent no matter what. "Was there anything she could have done that would have resulted in a satisfactory outcome?" she wonders. "She needs to believe the answer is no."
This is a book that is so 'out there', that I was looking for answers. Alas, the ending is not satisfying, and the novel is so strange, that I now realize, there can be no answers. The author has written a very clever book that draws you in and then spits you out.
I am still trying to figure out whether I like the novel. It is simply mystifying.
Recommended.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I got immersed in this book quickly and found it to be a gripping page-turner. I'm keenly interested in the concept of alternate timelines so that's what attracted me to the book,... Read morePublished 1 month ago by all love based paths lead to God
I liked this book pretty much, but wasn't thrilled with the ending. That may be mostly me, that is, I like things to be somewhat wrapped up by the end of the story. Read morePublished 11 months ago by bythecshore
Gripping and terrifying "what if" tale that addresses the challenges of parenting viewed through the eyes of a reasonably unhappy woman in a troubled marriage grappling... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Rich
I read this novel almost in a single sitting. The first half was terrifically absorbing: an outlandish plot, supple and well-cadenced prose, convincing characters. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Philippe Vandenbroeck
This book was neither particularly well written nor particularly interesting. The protagonist appears to flip into a parallel world early in the narrative. Read morePublished on August 14, 2014 by Susana S. Herbert
I found it to be very confusing. The ending was very anti-climatic. Not worth the time. Glad it was cheap.Published on April 13, 2014 by DH
I kept waiting for a plot. Spoiler alert! Familiar is a written mind trip of a woman who has lost her way and almost the entire book is her head conversations. Read morePublished on April 9, 2014 by suzanne D.
First time reading something by Lennon. The premise intrigued me from the get-go. Very interesting and thought-provoking read. At times, depressing and melancholy. Read morePublished on March 29, 2014 by Christine P.
I'm a fan of J. R. Lennon having read most of his books. Familiar had a unique and interesting premise that was well done for the most part. Read morePublished on March 2, 2014 by Jan Roelofs