Saturday, February 02, 2013

Man in the Empty Suit

Time travel novels, despite the well-known paradoxes associated with the theory of time travel, generally make for fun reading. For example, how could a person go back in time and accidentally kill his own grandfather when that means that he would have never existed to be able to time travel in the first place? But that kind of mind-twister is all part of the fun.

Sean Ferrell's Man in the Empty Suit puts a complicated, mind-bending twist on that old paradox. But Ferrell's story, while it is certainly an intriguing one, generally left me more confused than satisfied because I found it difficult to follow the author's logic. Picture this: every year on his birthday, a man travels to an abandoned hotel in 2071 New York City to celebrate the event at a special party. The event marks the 100th anniversary of his 1971 birth, and in attendance are all the "versions" of the time traveler that have ever existed, or will ever exist.  It is a crowded party - but he is the only one there.

As parties go, this one is actually pretty dull and, of course, very predictable.  But the party jumps off the track the year our hero turns thirty-nine, because on his way to the hotel ballroom, he finds a dead body.  The shocking thing about the discovery is that this body is his own at age forty, and now, as older versions of himself are quick to point out, he has exactly one year to figure out how to stop the murder from happening or they are all doomed.

Because no outsiders (with one beautiful exception) ever attend the party, the killer almost certainly has to be an older version of the victim.  But would not that be some kind of strange suicide?  As the search for clues evolved (and the clues were often ones left in the future/past by our boy himself), I became confused.  Unfortunately, I pretty much stayed that way for the rest of the ride.

Sean Ferrell
What saved Man in the Empty Suit for me is the love story that anchors it.  The first outsider ever to attend one of the birthday parties is an attractive young woman who calls herself Lily.  Our hero falls hopelessly in love but soon learns that he has a second mission almost as important as solving his own murder - he must stop Lily from attending the birthday party at which he meets her.  So, hoping to fix things, the time traveler jumps backward six months.

Despite my confusion, I did enjoy Ferrell's depiction of a future in which people still manage to work for the common good and take care of each other despite living in a city that is largely in ruins. What avid reader, after all, could fail to appreciate a society in which so many people, despite the struggle they face just to stay alive, are so physically involved in finding and distributing library books to readers in other cities?

Bottom Line: This one requires a little extra patience from the reader, but is an interesting, if sometimes confusing and frustrating, time travel novel whose side-plots and setting make it a memorable read.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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