Summary and book reviews of Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel

Woke Up Lonely

By Fiona Maazel

Woke Up Lonely
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Apr 2013,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2014,
    352 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Morgan Macgregor

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About this Book

Book Summary

Thurlow Dan is the founder of the Helix, a cult that promises to cure loneliness in the twenty-first century. With its communes and speed-dating, mixers and confession sessions, the Helix has become a national phenomenon - and attracted the attention of governments worldwide. But Thurlow, camped out in his Cincinnati headquarters, is lonely - for his ex-wife, Esme, and their daughter, whom he hasn't seen in ten years.

Esme, for her part, is a covert agent who has spent her life spying on Thurlow, mostly to protect him from the law. Now, with her superiors demanding results, she recruits four misfits to botch a reconnaissance mission in Cincinnati. But when Thurlow takes them hostage, he ignites a siege of the Helix House that will change all their lives forever.

With fiery, exuberant prose, Fiona Maazel takes us on a wild ride through North Korea's guarded interior and a city of vice beneath Cincinnati, a ride that twists and turns as it delves into an unsettled, off-kilter America. Woke Up Lonely is an original and deeply funny novel that explores our very human impulse to seek and repel intimacy with the people who matter to us most.

Excerpt
Woke Up Lonely

Thurlow sat in a small office. His nerves were like the third rail, like if he thought too much about what had just happened with Esme, he'd electrocute himself. He took a few deep breaths and focused on his speech instead. He thought of the audience, which calmed him down. Five thousand people who'd come to plead their needs. Bodies packed like spices in the rack. Faces upturned, hope ascendant. Tell us something great, Thurlow. Charge the heart of solitude and get us the hell out.

He stayed in the back for half an hour, then marched onstage. In the room: eyes pooled with light, skins pale as soap. He leaned into the mic and began.

"Here is something you should know: we are living in an age of pandemic. Of pandemic and paradox. To be more interconnected than ever and yet lonelier than ever. To be almost immortal with what sci¬ence is doing for us and yet plagued with feelings that are actually re¬vising how we operate on a biological...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. While Esme believes abstractly in Thurlow's ideas, she has a hard time buying the healing powers of the Helix: "Loneliness was a pandemic...Thurlow had that right. It was the rest Esme couldn't get behind. Fellowship among strangers as antidote to a life's worth of estrangement?" (page 29). Do you agree or disagree with Esme? Do you think that Thurlow's philosophy is good and it's his practice that's flawed?
  2. Ned posts to an online forum that "the thing about Luke is that he's able to do what no other Jedi has so far: he can feel love without turning evil" (page 55). Replace the word "Jedi" with "human being" and think about it. How many characters in Woke Up Lonely do terrible and selfish things for ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

There are a few writers I love, and gorge on, simply for their writing; they could spend eleven pages describing a teacup and I'd be on board, salivating for more. The list is short: David Foster Wallace, Gertrude Stein, Cintra Wilson. And now: Fiona Maazel. I would go anywhere with Maazel. Whether you're as enchanted by her language as I am or not (though I promise, she will enchant you), Woke Up Lonely is a spectacular novel. You must read it.   (Reviewed by Morgan Macgregor).

Full Review Members Only (1158 words).

Media Reviews
Marie Claire

..this story is weird, thrilling, and inimitable.

Vanity Fair

Brilliantly imagined.

The Daily Beast

[Maazel] has a real talent for taking these existential millstones of modern life—fear of death, failure, being alone, everything—and filtering them into morbidly funny, troublingly familiar forms. . . . Woke Up Lonely easily refutes the idea that the novel is a staid, obsolete form of writing. The stakes in Maazel's book are at least as real as any work of nonfiction, and it's a good deal more fun to read than any manifesto.

USA Today

The talented Maazel has plenty of imagination.

Los Angeles Review of Books

Sweeping, achingly honest . . . Woke Up Lonely is both a mirror and magic looking glass, reflecting who we are and who we have the potential to become.

Publishers Weekly

[W]hat's best about the novel and Maazel's skills as a storyteller...[is] her exploration of the different shades of loneliness.

Kirkus Reviews

Maazel manages to strike a number of tones here - from poignant (all Lo wants is to get back with wife and daughter) to paranoid - and she's successful at every level.

Author Blurb Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers
Woke Up Lonely is the novel equivalent of a sonic boom - it builds, it explodes, it leaves your ears, mind, and soul ringing for days. Who else writes sentences like this, who else writes sound art prose that transports a heart-killing story of human frailty, susceptibility, loyalty, and isolation? No one.

Author Blurb Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
Fiona Maazel’s imagination is so wild . . . that you feel like you’ve woken up into one of those rare novels as real as life. Hooray for such a talent!

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Belief Systems Similar to the Helix

In book reviews for Woke Up Lonely, Scientology is often invoked as a cultural reference for the Helix. The reasons for this are clear enough: both are worldwide organizations committed to individual and social change, both are led by one man who claims to have the secret to happiness, and both are largely suspected, by outsiders, to be cults (the Church of Scientology has been riddled with controversy with former members claiming to have been incarcerated extensively).

The primary "truth" upon which Scientology is constructed is this:

"Man is a spiritual being endowed with abilities well beyond those which he normally envisions. He is not only able to solve his own problems, accomplish his goals and gain lasting happiness, but he can ...

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