by Cyma Rizwaan Khan
So, the blurb for this book reads:
In a world overrun by monsters Ethan is trying to find a way to survive another day just like the rest. Until Ethan starts seeing two strange men who may or may not exist. Men who may change the course of his life forever. But Ethan can't even tell if they're real or imaginary, let alone if they're friends or enemies.
Which is pretty short, but so is the book. It's actually a novella and took me about an hour (according to my Kindle) to get through. Normally, I'm all about short reads. I think we need more short books in the world. But, I feel like this one maybe actually should have been a bit longer.
See, we follow Ethan, a junkie living in an apartment with most of the utilities cut off. Hell, he's cut off. He rarely calls anyone by name, referring to them by titles like "Bartender Girl" instead. His narrative voice is strong and... Okay, I can't think of a good way to say this, so you'll just have to trust me that it's kind of awesome. I think Ethan is great and I would happily read a full novel told by him, but he's kind of a pompous ass. He spends a good portion of his life hating on people for buying into things. Like this:
The ancient halos over billboards they bright, lighten, tighten around the cheery facade of empiracl madness, neon signs disguised in exteriorization and promulgating the nonsense theory of window-dressed desperation that lingers longer than it should, with empty fascination and foolhardy lies that have nowhere to go, the longing and self-doubt lasts way longer than ecstasy or heroin, way longer than any drug I've ever known or not known.
Watch this space.
Buy. Buy. Buy!
Buy and be saved.
Acquire and be happy or attractive or strong or smooth or fresh.
Buy and be salvaged.
But if you can't afford salvation then by all means jump off a cliff or put a gun in your mouth.
It there's a doubt in my that I'm about to become part of this annihilation it's removed when I enter my single room apartment and the same wretchedness awaiting me.
It could be really annoying, but Ethan's self-awareness keeps him not just tolerable, but (at least for me) kind of really likable. Your mileage may vary, everyone knows I'm a big fan of angst ridden characters.
The monster though. Ethan sort of mentions them briefly, but not in any way that made me feel like I knew what exactly they were. Like, real monsters? Bad people? Even when Ethan goes to "The Private Investigator" and the story dips into They Live territory, I'm not sure what's going on with the monsters. Ethan is given some serum that allows him to see them. But Khan never allows Ethan to expand on what they are or what exactly their doing in the story. In fact, they seem a little irrelevant.
Then there's the two men; "The Man in the White Suit" and "The Man in the Grey Suit". They serve as threshold guardians and plot movers, but I'm not really sure who they are. They seem real enough, as one of them gives Ethan a bloody nose, but we don't really get to delve into them either. Why don't they like each other? What are their motives? Why did they pick Ethan?
The story is kind of a mind-fuck, like Songs of the Maniacs, but I don't really feel like it deserved its ending. There was very little foreshadowing or clues given. Several dead ends that raised questions. Jonah felt like a completely extraneous character. If he'd been cut, I don't feel like I would be missing anything and, in fact, would have fewer fridge logic moments about the whole thing.
And, in the version I read, there were some strange formatting things. The paragraphs weren't justified, which doesn't sound like a big deal but, man, it looks kind of weird. And there were no indents at the start of paragraphs, which also doesn't sound like a big deal but looks hella weird.
All in all though, I found it to be a pretty enjoyable read. The end is heartbreaking. The final line is perfect. Ethan is somewhere between high school dropout and overly-intellectual beat poet. I love the ideas presented here, but I think they could have been explored more fully. So, three out of five.