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Cory Doctorow – Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

December 13, 2011

152. Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow (2005)

Length: 320 pages
Genre: Surrealist Fantasy

Started: 15 October 2011
Finished: 23 November 2011

Where did it come from? Bookcloseouts / free download from Doctorow’s site.
Why do I have it? After I read Little Brother, I was definitely interested in reading more of Doctorow’s work.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 17 April 2010.

It’s hard to live a
normal life when your family
won’t leave you alone.

Summary: Alan (or Andy, or Adam; his parents were never too particular about names, which is understandable, given that his father is a mountain and his mother is a washing machine) is trying to live a normal life. He’s renovating a house in Toronto, working on writing a novel, and doing his best to make friends – although his two primary friends are a dumpster-diving tech geek with plans to provide free wireless internet to the entire city, and his next-door neighbor, who has wings that she lets her boyfriend cut off every time they grow too large to be hidden. Things are going pretty well for Alex until three of his brothers, Eddie, Fred, and Grant, the Russian nesting dolls, show up on his doorstep… followed by their brother Davey – the same Darren who the brothers had killed many years ago – who resurfaces in Arthur’s life, intent on his murderous revenge.

Review: If it wasn’t already abundantly clear from the summary: this book was weird. Sometimes gloriously weird, sometimes confusingly weird, sometimes annoyingly weird, but always, always, just unrelentingly weird. Now, I’m a fantasy reader, so I’m fairly comfortable with fiction in which the unnatural coexisting with the natural, and the abnormal with the normal, but I prefer it if the strangeness and the weirdness in my books at least follows its own internal logic. And in the case of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, it seemed like sometimes the various absurdities fit together, and sometimes not, but even when they made their own kind of sense, I could never fully get a handle on what that sense was. I read most of the book feeling like there was something that I was missing, something I wasn’t getting, something that I was waiting for that would make the entire thing click into place.

However, despite never quite being able to grasp what the book was trying to say, it still told a pretty engaging story. For all his and his family’s weirdness, Alan’s a sympathetic protagonist, and the theme of being an outsider, unsure what to do to fit in with the “normal” people around you is something that I think most people can relate to. Once I threw my hands up and stopped trying to make all of the pieces fit, it was very easy to get caught up in the flow of the story of Alan’s upbringing and his family. For that reason, however, I found that Doctorow’s tech-heavy digressions – the same sort that served the story so well in Little Brother – were much less organic to the main plot and therefore really distracting here. I guess I didn’t see their point, how they added to and fit with the rest of the story… but then I felt like I didn’t quite understand so much of this book that maybe I shouldn’t single them out.

Overall, it’s really hard to pin down how I feel about this book, probably because it’s so hard to pin down exactly what this book is. It’s very original, for sure. And very strange. And potentially just totally over my head. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Oooh, tough one. It reminded me a little of Geek Love (the family of not-quite-regular siblings), and a little of Perdido Street Station (the way it took the normal perceptions of the way story elements worked and turned them sideways), but neither of those is a read-alike on any larger scale. Recommended for those who like their fiction well off the beaten path, I guess.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Stella Matutina
Really? That’s it? If you’ve reviewed this book, leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Alan sanded the house on Wales Avenue.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. urbanbachelorette permalink
    December 13, 2011 9:05 am

    I picked this one up when it came out, and had the same trouble. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. I didn’t finish it, but I love his other works. Perhaps one day I’ll pick it up again and give it another go.

    • December 26, 2011 12:58 pm

      Urbanbachelorette – Which of his other books (other than Little Brother, which I loved) would you recommend I pick up next?

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