Summary and book reviews of Lowboy by John Wray

Lowboy

by John Wray

Lowboy
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Derek Brown

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About this Book

Book Summary

By turns suspenseful and comic, devastating and hopeful, Lowboy is a fearless exploration of youth, sex, and violence in contemporary America, seen through one boy's haunting and extraordinary vision.

Early one morning in New York City, Will Heller, a sixteen-yearold paranoid schizophrenic, gets on an uptown B train alone. Like most people he knows, Will believes the world is being destroyed by climate change; unlike most people, he’s convinced he can do something about it. Unknown to his doctors, unknown to the police - unknown even to Violet Heller, his devoted mother - Will alone holds the key to the planet’s salvation. To cool down the world, he has to cool down his own overheating body: to cool down his body, he has to find one willing girl. And he already has someone in mind.

Lowboy, John Wray’s third novel, tells the story of Will’s fantastic and terrifying odyssey through the city’s tunnels, back alleys, and streets in search of Emily Wallace, his one great hope, and of Violet Heller’s desperate attempts to locate her son before psychosis claims him completely. She is joined by Ali Lateef, a missing-persons specialist, who gradually comes to discover that more is at stake than the recovery of a runaway teen: Violet- beautiful, enigmatic, and as profoundly at odds with the world as her son - harbors a secret that Lateef will discover at his own peril.

Suspenseful and comic, devastating and hopeful by turns, Lowboy is a fearless exploration of youth, sex, and violence in contemporary America, seen through one boy’s haunting and extraordinary vision.

Excerpt
Lowboy

On November 11 Lowboy ran to catch a train. People were in his way but he was careful not to touch them. He ran up the platform’s corrugated yellow lip and kept his eyes on the train’s cab, commanding it to wait. The doors had closed already but they opened when he kicked them. He couldn’t help but take that as a sign.

He got on board the train and laughed. Signs and tells were all around him. The floor was shivering and ticking beneath his feet and the bricktiled arches above the train beat the murmurings of the crowd into copper and aluminum foil. Every seat in the car had a person in it. Notes of music rang out as the doors closed behind him: C# first, then A. Sharp against both ears, like the tip of a pencil. He turned and pressed his face against the glass.

Skull & Bones, his state-appointed enemies, were forcing their way headfirst up the platform. Skull was a skinny milkfaced man, not much to look at, but Bones was the size of a MetroCard...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How does the author demonstrate in writing what Will is going through, what the world looks and feels like to him? How does the tone and style in Will’s sections differ from the sections that follow Lateef or Violet?

  2. How much responsibility do you think Violet bears for what happens to her son? How much of his behavior is genetically driven, and how much is a result of Violet’s influence and the circumstances of his upbringing?

  3. Look at the scene in the cupcake shop on pages 130-133. What goes wrong in Will’s communication with the girl behind the counter that sets him off? What are some of the triggers throughout the story that cause Will to lose touch with the world as others see it?

  4. How did your thoughts about ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A dark and enlivening exploration of the mind of a teenager woefully afflicted by mental illness, the free-spirited and unaware companion that he seeks, the passion and mystery of a mother earnestly searching for him, and the stoic and pensive detective attempting to thwart him while understanding the mess of it all. You will find yourself getting pulled in deeper with every chapter, resonating with each of characters more and more until you realize that you’re at the end of line and you long for it to begin all over again.   (Reviewed by Derek Brown).

Full Review Members Only (538 words).

Media Reviews

The Los Angeles Times - Akiva Gottlieb

This poetic, stirringly strange novel offers an empathic reminder that, for many, the light at the end of the tunnel can be taken for a harbinger of doom.

The Boston Globe - Erin Carlson

After 10 years as a low-selling critical darling, Wray might finally have a breakout hit on his hands. His third novel, Lowboy, about a paranoid schizophrenic teenager, is winning rave reviews - no big surprise there - but also loads more buzz than ever...

The New York Times - Charles Bock

…uncompromising, often gripping and generally excellent.

Library Journal

Wray presents a powerful and vivid portrait of Will's mental state, believably entering into his apocalyptic vision of the world. Recommended for public libraries.

Booklist

Though the denouement [is] sadly predictable, Wray is an obviously gifted writer, whose treatment of Will is a tour de force of empathy, style, and imagination.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The opening pages recall Salinger's Holden Caulfield, but the denouement and haunting aftertaste may make the stunned reader whisper 'Dostoevsky.' Yes, it really is that good.

Publishers Weekly.

Starred Review. In his previous works, Wray has shown that he's not a stranger to dark themes, and with this tightly wound novel, he reaches new heights.

Reader Reviews

Bonnie Brody

Magnificent Portrayal of Schizophrenia
Lowboy is one of the best books I have ever read. It is about Lowboy, so named because he likes to ride the subways of New York City and be underground. He has disappeared from his psychiatric hospital and both his mother and a police detective are...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

About the Author
John Wray was born in Washington D.C in 1971 to an American father and Austrian mother. His first novel, The Right Hand of Sleep won him a Whiting Writer's Award at age 30, an honor bestowed upon such notables as David Foster Wallace and William Vollmann. His second novel, Canaan's Tongue, earned him a position on the list of Granta's best novelists under 35. In addition to his writing, John Wray was also the front man of Marmalade, a Brooklyn-based pop band that released an album, Beautiful Soup, in 2003. Wray wrote most of the first draft of Lowboy while riding back and forth on various NYC subway trains - about five days a week for six months, in his estimation.

A Precarious Publicist
The talented John Wray ...

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