Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town Hardcover – Jul 1 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. It's only natural that Alan, the broadminded hero of Doctorow's fresh, unconventional SF novel, is willing to help everybody he meets. After all, he's the product of a mixed marriage (his father is a mountain and his mother is a washing machine), so he knows how much being an outcast can hurt. Alan tries desperately to behave like a human being—or at least like his idealized version of one. He joins a cyber-anarchist's plot to spread a free wireless Internet through Toronto at the same time he agrees to protect his youngest brothers (members of a set of Russian nesting dolls) from their dead brother who's now resurrected and bent on revenge. Life gets even more chaotic after he becomes the lover and protector of the girl next door, whom he tries to restrain from periodically cutting off her wings. Doctorow (Eastern Standard Tribe) treats these and other bizarre images and themes with deadpan wit. In this inventive parable about tolerance and acceptance, he demonstrates how memorably the outrageous and the everyday can coexist. Agent, Russell Galen. (May 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Middle-aged entrepreneur Alan, for whom mother is a washing machine and father is a mountain, has moved into one of Toronto's more interesting neighborhoods. The brother Alan and his other brothers killed years ago has returned to hound the family, and those other brothers, who are nesting dolls, show up on Alan's doorstep starving because the innermost brother has vanished. A next-door neighbor has wings that her boyfriend cuts back regularly so she can pass for normal. In the midst of such ordinary oddness, getting involved in a scheme to provide free wireless Internet to the neighborhood and eventually the city seems reasonable, even when it's masterminded by a crusty punk whose gear comes from Dumpster diving. Eventually, Alan concludes that he must go back to the mountain, a home he hasn't visited in years. The combination of Alan facing up to his family and their strangeness, the damage his dead brother will do to everything Alan cares about, and Doctorow's inescapable technological enthusiasm eventuates in a lovely, satisfying tale. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Much of Doctorow's novel seems to explore the difficulties and possibilities of communication across categories, experiences, and multiple identities. His disparate characters work on building a free, city-wide guerilla, wireless network built out of scavenged electronic parts. His identity-seeking (and thus ambivalently named) protagonist tries to rescue himself by saving others. Telecommunications, books, back alleys, and trip(s) back home to the mountain are vehicles for the characters' explorations of identity and belonging.
I felt as though this novel was written for me. This is a rare experience, but it's a rare novel. You can download the novel, but I recommend buying a copy so you can read it on the subway or while sitting in Bellevue Square park. It's a very good Toronto novel, but should be read in every city.
If I have one criticism, it is that the novel could have used a stronger edit. This is a minor criticism, though: Doctorow's novel is a more than worthwhile read and re-read.Read more ›
It's as though James Joyce met Alfred Bester and they channeled
through Russell Hoban. This is a combinatorial product of
"Finnegans Wake" and "Fondly Fahrenheit." And, like the Wake,
it ain't easy. But it is wonderful. And about half of it
takes place in Toronto's Kensington Market area. I don't know
what it is. I don't think it's SF. Buy it anyway. Read it
and enjoy it.
This is not a description of the workings of a fantastic fictional world, a la "Down and out.." and "Truncat". There is no consistent world presented, just odd stuff happening all around.
This is not a person's creating technology in a world near today a la "Eastern Standard...".
This is not awe inspiring tech of "0wnz0red".
This is like "A place so foreign" devoid of meaning and with the weirdness meter jammed past eleven.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
I loved "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom", and I will read "Eastern Standard Tribe" soon, but this one was a big disappointment, and gave me the impression that Doctorow should stick to the sci-fi, and maybe dip a little bit into fantasy, but the abstract fantasy of this book was WAY too ambitious for him.
Oh, also, the whole "erotic armpit sniffing" thing really squicked me.
Alan's evil brother Doug is apparently just born evil, no explanatiion is ever offered for the hatred or violence he engages in. He's just bad and any hopes the reader has of finding out why and how he got like that are ultimately dashed. Same with Alan's evil neighbour Krishna, he's just cruel and evil for no apparent reason. How and why he teams up with evil Doug is never explained either. He just does.
Alan and his magical brothers Doug, Charlie, Billy, etc. (all spawn of a washing machine mother and a mountain father) change their names throughout the book -- Doug is variously called Dan, David and Dearborne at various points in the text, Charlie is called Clem, Carlos and Cory, and Alan is referred to as Andy, Akin, etc. at various points as well. This is presumably an attempt on the author's part to emphasise how "unusual" the characters are, how non-human they really are and how they don't really fit in. Alas it doesn't work, it's just plain irritating and makes the story hard to follow -- not a good thing to do to your readers.
The use of language in this book is very good in places, descriptions are mostly very well, often beautifully, done and it's because Doctorow can write so well when he wants to that the flaws are so obvious when they turn up. E.g. There's a long section where Alan's love-interest Mimi (who looks human but has wings) is describing her relationship with evil Krishna and how he started cutting off her wings every few months as they regrew. She speaks to Alan in such writerly detail about how he looked, what she did and felt, how the rooms looked, etc. that it's just silly. There's no way a poor traumatized young woman would describe events in such colourful detail; it's great writing but totally out of place given the circumstances.
All in all I liked this better than Doctorow's previous book, "Eastern Standard Tribe", but still not nearly as much as his debut effort "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom", which remains his best novel to date (fortunately he is still turning out first-rate short stories, maybe he should stick to that, at least until he can devote the time required to write the really great novel he undoubtably can).