Book Review : Sean Ferrell - Numb (2010)
Praise the Gods of Social Media (and Janet Reid), I have bought Numb. Honestly, since I've begun this whole blogging thing, I've been swimming in a lake of paranormal, romance, vampires and werewolves writers. When I heard about Sean Ferrell through his agent's blog, I was curious. His approach to fiction writing seemed similar to mine. My writer-sense didn't disappoint me, because Numb is one hell of book.
Numb is the story of...Numb, some guy that walks into a freak show circus in Texas, covered in blood and wearing a black suit. He doesn't remember who he is and can't feel any pain. The circus owner sees the opportunity of a quick buck with him and includes him into the show. One day, things go overboard and Numb gets locked in a cage with the Caesar, the circus' lion. His friend Mal saves his life and drags him out of the cage and together they leave the circus to start their own roaming freak show. Numb's career goes upwards though as he hits New York and lands a contract with an agent, Michael who turns him into a celebrity. Numb gets introduced to the jet set, blind artist Hiko and model Emilia, who find a way to make his life complicated despite the newly found celebrity. Meanwhile, Mal struggles, but the bond he has with Numb proves to be stronger than his new entourage though.
The chapters of Numb draw a series of portrait of Numb's life who are loosely connected, but beautiful on their own. Most of them would make a good standalone story, which gives the novel a depth and an aesthetic that most first time novelist don't even come close to. What I liked best about Numb was Ferrell's reflexion on identity versus celebrity. All that Numb has about himself is the perception of other people, which makes him identify himself to his scars, which is the only thing people seem to give him attention for. That also causes these beautiful moment of lonely hollowness, where he's trying to "numb down" an nameless feeling (I.E. In Hiko's appartment when he turns all lights down or in the hotel where he keeps ordering stuff for no apparent reason). This is where Numb is most appealing, in its graceful impending doom. The numbness is only physical, despite the main character denying his anxiety (consciously or not).
What I liked a little less is the theoretical stance of the novel. Numb is a voice (an commanding one), but as a character, he comes off a bit more like a theoretical example than a live character to whom the reader attach. I can understand Sean Ferrell wanted (and achieved) that ethereal feeling, but there is a cost to this. I'm not even sure other characters call Numb by his name during the novel. He's mostly nameless and could have been called "loss of identity" or "existential dread" and the novel wouldn't have been affected. He doesn't seem very interested in his past and his life and seems happy to surf on the wave of his own hype. It's not that critical, but it strips the novel of a great power it could have had and traps it in this intellectual cast.
For a first novel, Numb burns rubber. It's a spectacular kick-start to Sean Ferrell's novelist career. It's not the most accessible novel and it's going to frustrate a lot of reader that aren't used to play mind games of authors, but it gets the job done. Sean Ferrell isn't dead or famous yet and it's with great pleasure that I hop into his bandwagon.