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Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town Paperback – May 30, 2006
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Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
This may all sound eccentrically creative on Doctorow's part, but the problem is that these weird characters and bizarre backgrounds are simply presented as a given, and never actually explained. Are they supernatural demigods, weird mutant freaks, aliens, or what? Their function in the world of regular humans is never explored, nor is there any explanation for the supporting characters who know their secrets (Krishna) or can accept them without judgment or questioning (Kurt). Also, the characters go about their actions with no underlying motives or motivations being made clear to the reader. This problem applies especially to Mimi and the evil brother. And finally, Doctorow was obviously trying to tie the main storyline, of Alan trying to integrate into regular society while fixing his extra-human family's problems, to the secondary storyline of a community effort to build a free wireless network. But these two plotlines never find true connectivity, and with many loose ends all around, the book sometimes feels like a jumble of loose ideas. Granted, this novel earns its props for being fun to read and for making you care what happens to the characters. But Doctorow needs more practice in fleshing out his unique ideas into a truly integrated and empathetic story. [~doomsdayer520~]
Part of it was the feeling that the book was padded by lectures on the viability of wireless networks or the internet v. cell phones inserted solely to pad out the work and give Doctorow an opportunity to share his thoughts on the subject at hand. Which is fine when I'm reading an article or his posts on his blog or at BoingBoing, but in the novel they brought the story to a screeching halt. One moment I'm reading two characters discussing coffee, the next is a three page Socratic dialogue on the nautre of some gadget somewhere.
But mostly I never really felt that I was reading characters, just mannequins who were constructed and (barely) fleshed out so Doctorow could put them through their paces as he needed them. That's the nature of fiction, of course, but the characters that grip me have more to offer the story than the necessary plot coupons or Maguffins. These were mannequinsm artlessly brought into and out of the story as required. I never felt they had any inner life or any glimmer of personality that I would want to read about outside of the story.
The one exception was Mimi, who had a particularly juicy series of secrets to tell, but even she came and went seemingly at the author's whims.
I finished the book to finish it, not because I really cared. Much like Doctorow's other work, it had a strong start that was lost in the face of its own cleverness. I'd suggest giving this one a miss.
Alan (Andy, Adrian) is the son of a mountain and a washing machine, and he has seven brothers. Alan (Alex, Andreas) is the oldest, and also the one who can pass for human the most easily and comfortably. In fact, only gradually do we learn that there's anything unusual about him at all, except for his parentage and his casual attitude about what name he gives people-as long as it starts with "A". Billy (Bob, Ben) can see the future, Carlo is an island, Doug (Danny,) was a perfectly human-appearing monster until his brothers killed him (which hasn't slowed down his career much), and Ed, Fred, and George are nesting dolls. Alan got his early-childhood care and education from the golems provided by his father, the mountain, and then discovered school and the library. After a childhood attempting to raise his brothers (except for Carlo) with decent educations and the ability to blend in to human society, and after a truly horrific experience ending in the death of Doug, Alan takes off on his own. When we meet him, he's a middle-aged, semi-retired entrepreneur living in Toronto, renovating the house he just bought and getting acquainted with the college-age neighbors next door.
His illusions of normality are about to take a nasty hit.
On the one hand, he's getting sucked into a new project, making free wireless internet access available to the neighborhood, the city, and eventually the world. On the other hand, his brothers, Ed, Fred, and George come to visit, with the news that Doug, whom they thought was safely dead, is back and coming after them. And on the third hand, the kids next door aren't as normal as they look, either. As his brothers start dying and Doug starts collecting allies, Alan clings to his version of normality and pitches free wireless internet access to Bell Canada and tiny city merchants and anarchist bookstore operators, and tries to convince the girl next door that wings aren't a handicap. (Silly Alan; Mimi wants to be normal, too!)
All of this could be a recipe for a disaster of a book, and occasionally it does seem to almost spin out of Doctorow's control-but not quite. Somehow it all gels. These characters are fleshed out and interesting, and the story, alternating in time between Alan's strange childhood and his not-quite-normal middle age, is fully developed and absorbing. I'm never going to be Cory Doctorow's biggest fan, but I recommend this one to anyone who enjoys quirky fantasy.
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