I thought that I knew what the novel The Resurrectionist by Jack O’Connell was going to be about. The author humored me for a chapter or two then took a sharp left and kept me off balance for the rest of the book. I had no idea what was going to happen next or where the author was taking me. It is one crazy book. In a good way.
The Resurrectionist begins with a father, Sweeney, relocating his brain damaged young son to what is reportedly the best facility for drawing patients out of vegetative states. The father has a huge chip on his shoulder from being condescended to by the medical establishment. Sweeney is a pharmacist by training and has taken a job at the facility at a pay cut in order to provide the best for his son. Any parent will instantly empathize with the anguish and desperation that Sweeney carries like a bat to keep the focus on his son:
Sweeeney nodded back. He needed the job and he’d burned all of his bridges back in Ohio. But there was still a limit to the amount of patronizing shit shit he’d endure…”I have one concern and that’s the well-being of my boy. You tell me what your concerns are and I’ll address them.”
This is the part of the story that I was expecting. Then the sharp left turns begin…
Each night, Sweeney reads to his son from a collection of his favorite comic series, Limbo. The comics are presented as chapter length stories that break up the main narrative. The stories take place in an alternate world and feature a band of circus freaks on the run from a mysterious nemesis who wants them eliminated. Chick, the leader of the motley group, has visions while in a catatonic state (that he calls “limbo”) that guides the group on their journey.
Back in the real world, things are not as they seem at the esteemed neurological institute. The staff at the institute and Sweeney himself have back stories that are slowly revealed and add to the complexity and unexpected twists of the story. Sweeney also finds himself mixed up with a group of dangerous bikers that may not be what they seem. Then things get really weird.
Through the two story lines, O’Connell explores the boundaries of consciousness and “being” in unexpected and compelling ways. Grief, sanity, compassion, forgiveness, and the depths of fatherly love are all carefully explored over the course of the novel. Many of O’Connell’s themes are reminiscent of Paul Auster’s novels and BGB favorite Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts – but are presented here in a wholly original way.
It would have been interesting to see the comic book story presented in “graphic novel” form, but that may have come off as “gimmicky” or “non-literary”. In any case, The Resuurectionist is a powerful noir-thriller-fantasy-Literary-experimental-post modern novel. I highly recommend it for readers that like their novels to take them to unexpected places and leave them digesting what exactly happened to them when it is all over.