I’m still processing this book – at several times near the beginning I hated it, and was sure I’d put it down at any minute. And yet I kept reading, as Maazel’s writing hit me in beautiful gasps and starts, mixed in with and nearly masked by all the madness of her stretched-thin plot.
The summary in a chick-mag hooked me instantly – a man develops a cult to fight the pervasive loneliness of our times, only resulting in his further isolation as the cult grows. When I checked this book out from the beautiful Walnut Creek library and glanced at the Goodreads reviews before I started reading, however, it was rated 3 stars. This means average, and I was worried. People weren’t digging Woke Up Lonely, for some reason.
If Chuck Pahalniuk and Christopher Buckley were lovers and decided to adopt an African baby, Fiona Maazel might be that baby in its infancy. One of the blurbs on the back compares Maazel to George Saunders, and I was like “WOAH let’s not go that far – George Saunders is a master of the craft!” But then, I guess, I can see it.
What I kept getting tripped up on here was the incredible (meant in the literal, hard to believe, way) plot. This book has a ton of bells and whistles: corrupt government officials, North Korean leaders, spies with full time makeup artists building alter egos out of face paint, an entire subversive tunnel city under Cincinnati. I guess what gives me pause in comparing Maazel to great authors is I felt that there was such simplicity in the premise of and the concepts in the book, and yet the book itself was full of Buckley-ish mayhem that was meant to be cynical/funny but just didn’t make any sense. I thought the plot was all fine as long as I was looking at it from a distance, not focusing my eyes too hard. But if I stopped to pause and think what was happening in the book, I was like “What is this crap that I am reading?”
The saving grace for the plot was the writing – the main characters’ long expositions on love and loneliness are so sad and true, and Maazel has a gift for poetic one liners, like: “I was stunned but then not, because if Norman was his own season, he came every year.” and “We were not excitably poor or evangelical, but we were striking for how little capacity any of us had to dream of a life outside the one we had.”
I would have loved a more simplistic book that showcased Maazel’s crisp writing and her premise, loneliness in the 21st century. If you are thinking of reading this book, get ready for a messy and bumpy ride.