A New Novel Explores How the Past Can Disrupt the Future

I am reviewing books through the Blogging for Books program in an effort to support my community’s Little Free Library, thus the addition of book reviews outside of the usual sexual health topics to Your Sexy Librarian postings. After being reviewed, the book gets stamped “Always a Gift, Never for Sale” and placed into a Little Free Library for others to enjoy.

My first book selection is I Am No One by Patrick Flanery, which was released on July 5. This is the third novel by the American-born author; all three of his works have received praise by critics. The cover art of I Am No One is clean and crisp with a hint of urban flare. The serif font looks sophisticated and is easy to read. The pages in my hardback copy are offset to give the pages more texture and definition, which in turn gives the book a feel of quality as each page is turned.

I have not read Flanery’s previous novels nor any of his essays. My first impressive of his writing style is that it is similar to Jack Kerouac’s with the exception of Flanery’s use of punctuation. While Kerouac mainly disregarded punctuation, Flanery overuses commas to such a degree that the number of commas on a page can be distracting.

Here is an example of Flanery’s writing and use of commas from the first chapter: “This is not something that tends to happen in Britain, where suspicion of strangers is so deeply ingrained in the national psyche, perhaps from the years of the IRA threat, or even more distantly, from the suspicion of German spies during the Second World War, that strangers often do not even make eye contact let alone speak with one another, unless they are from elsewhere, and then, by happy chance, it becomes possible to bond with someone in a public place, both shaking your heads over the confounding maze of London’s transportation network or the cost of living or the difficulty inherent in walking down the street because whatever laws of left-side walking that might once have been in force have been confused by London’s transformation into an international microstate, and though distant enough from the capital, Oxford is a satellite of this phenomenon, its Englishness gradually giving way to a cosmopolitan that moves with brutal transformative force.”

This long-winded writing style may pose a challenge for readers with attention deficiencies. His typical sentence contains up to 100 words or more while other books I am reading, which are well-written and easy to follow, have between 15 and 45 words per sentence on average. The length of Flanery’s sentences muddle the story line and his ramblings make it difficult to remember what is happening in the story itself.

I admit I was unable to read this novel without veering off into mental distractions and that posed a great challenge in finishing I Am No One, which is disappointing because Flanery presents readers with a great subject and a well-developed main character riddled with peculiarity.

The plot of I Am No One is based upon routine surveillance of people by authorities and how the past can affect each of us in our present and in our future and presents the compelling conversational question of, “Can one person from the past, no matter how brief or how long the acquaintance, completely destroy someone’s life today?” Flanery explores that question with zeal and peels through the layers of the past and present to get to the answer of that question for main character Jeremy O’Keefe.

There are a few thought-provoking gems in I Am No One. For example, in the last fourth of the novel, Jeremy and his daughter Meredith have an in-depth conversation about an artist who creates artwork by manipulating images from closed-circuit television and then using a CNC machine to create paintings based on those manipulations. This artist remains completely anonymous in the process, which amazes Jeremy because he himself is having issues with the consequences of living on the grid with the rest of the world.

Readers who enjoy wordier writing styles will find great joy in this novel. Flanery definitely does not dumb his writing down for the masses. Readers with short attention spans should probably skip Flanery’s latest novel, I Am No One. Perhaps Hollywood will give us a movie version that will be easier to watch than this novel was to read.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.