Review of “The Hollywood Spiral,” by: Paul Neilan

Grand Central Publishing/ IndieBound/BookShop/Libro.FM (audiobook)

Synopsis:

“In the near future, after the internet grinds to a halt amid a wave of cyber-attacks, a company named Zodiac steps in to replace it with an evolved, augmented-reality version called the Grid..Harrigan, a hard-drinking private detective living as off-Grid as possible, is about to be evicted from his apartment when a stranger shows up asking for his help in finding Anna, an escort who’s absconded with more than just his heart. Turns out that through Harrigan’s new client, Anna has come into possession of a program/entity called Mirror, Mirror, which has the capacity to merge the Grid and reality, bending both to the whims of the program’s user.Soon Harrigan finds himself up against the last surviving organized crime gangs in Los Angeles, Zodiac’s mercenaries, and a mysterious group called the First Church Multiverse, all of whom are hot on the trail of Mirror, Mirror–if the comet rapidly approaching Earth doesn’t kill them all first.

Taken from Grand Central Publishing’s website.

Review:

Sometimes moments of cleverness in a book provokes transient hopeful expectations that maybe the book you’re reading just might get better only then to have the book revert to feeling ponderous in pacing once more, locking in your sure knowledge that the book likely isn’t going to miraculously come together in the end. And I’ve seen books read where everything feels utterly opaque and dense in the beginning, only for the book to bring together all of the different threads to allow you to have an epiphany about the book’s meaning that may suddenly immerse you into the story. This is an art-form of writing that I like to call subtle “delayed epiphany,” purposely writing with just enough of a slow, seemingly no-thrills plot progression tempered with enough teasing about a greater mystery that lay in store for the reader, somehow compelling you to reading further even when the book still fails to pull you in fully.

The writer of The Hollywood Spiral is clearly talented and the book is sometimes very clever and incisive in its many introspections and existential extrapolations. Except underneath this veil of philosophizing there is a story that never quite comes together in a purposeful, cohesive fashion. That may be its intent, seeing as the the book is structured around a futuristic world where the social media platform becomes so hegemonic that life without being fully immersed in social media casts you as a pariah of society, trying to be mentally involved with that outside world reality now becomes the new state of existential detachment when civilization thrives in the virtual world of social media. There is a lot of commentary about the external world (world outside the medium of social media) becoming debased as result of social media becoming the dominant outlet of social interaction. There are many images of degradation of some kind, language about the lost sense for nuance to the spoken word/tone. Civilization no longer dwells in the outside world, and instead social media has become the prevalent stage for the theater of society. It seems only fitting to have the book set then in a bleak, crumbling Los Angeles, where everything is about simulation of reality and even the human emotion of joy.

It makes sense then for the book to be set in a Blade Runner esque futuristic world, pervaded by a very morose atmosphere that the author does do a great job helping the reader to imbibe. Our main character tries to escape and disconnect from the supposed bustling social media world and instead endeavors to go on a Don Quixote quest for a classical mystery littered with allusions to fairy tales, things that hold no allegorical meaning or significant canonical purpose for social media entrenched world. With so many interesting elements at play and the expectation that maybe it’d get better, I still struggled to read onwards, never really getting to that scene where everything would just click.

I think this boils entirely down to taste though, and while the book seemed well-written and appeared to have some complex -while elusive for me the reader- narrative structure that perhaps takes longer to figure out. One book that also had this same issue for me as a reader was The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, a book that was too convoluted, bursting with perhaps too many large concepts, occasional verbose descriptions that it never really came together in any meaningful way, as it the concepts were perhaps still too nebulous to fully wind together in a coherent sense. And yet, I weirdly bought the book even after a reading session that proved more challenging than most, and I think this book may actually hold that potential. That is why I think The Hollywood Spiral might be worth a future reread sometime in the future, and maybe I’ll have an updated review to share at that time. To me, it had enough intrigue to hold my attention throughout even if at times feeling interminable, to keep me reading and even wondering if I am somehow missing the hidden strand of cohesion that’d otherwise would have made for a much more enjoyable read.

As per usual, I implore you to never construe my reviews as directives on how you should feeling about this work, or anything else reviewed here. You are strongly encouraged to check out this book regardless of my feelings on any work here. With that said, I may return to this book at a future time, and maybe offer some updated reflections.

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