Living post market crash and post the recent Times Square bomb attempt, I feel as though I've paid for a ride on a roller coaster, knowing the tracks will end abruptly and that it will fling me into the abyss, and yet I read on with a strange curiosity for how he will fling me there. The most pervasive theme I'm struck by in these individual narratives is one of the interpersonal distance inherent in our crowded lives, how much substantive human contact has reduced as we claim to be better connected and better informed - watching television that claims to be about "real" lives.
Jenni, the train driver, lives most of her life beneath the streets of London in the driver's cabin of the Circle Line. When released after her shift she is eager to get home to her gaming, where she assumes a false name and meets other substitute identities:
She had not gone far before she encountered a man. He had cargo pants to the knee, bare torso and multiple piercings. His skin was light brown, though most of it was covered in tattoos; he carried a Uranium credit card (the highest rating) and a submachine gun in his right hand.Finn, the teenage TV addict watches a television interview with a schizophrenic:
Jenni sighed. This was not the kind of man she would have chosen, but she had learned that it was pretty much standard dress for men in Parallax. Most of the maquettes were scary and you just had to remind yourself that they might in reality be women or children - you absolutely could not rely in appearances; you had to disbelieve your eyes.
For the last fifteen years, Alan had been without a permanent home. He said he hadn't liked the hospital, it was loud and dirty, but at least he'd felt safe there.
"So," said Terry O'Malley, "as far as your accommodation's concerned, it seems you're in two minds about it."The characters in these parallel stories watch television to get the stories of real people, but they don't actually listen to them. They connect to tattooed gangsters and don't really know who they are. This is a world about being disconnected from each other and from our senses - the equipment that we have to collect information about the world and make predictions about behavior given what we can know about what exists outside of us. The only people alert to the details of their surrounds in this novel are those who want to place bombs in public places or who wish to make personal fortunes at the cost of billions in others' pension investments. This is our world, in case you didn't recognize it.
The audience laughed. "Schizophrenia...in two minds..." O'Malley underlined his joke for the slower ones.
"That's not what schizophrenia means," said Alan. "That's a misunderstanding. It's nothing to do with a 'split personality' or -"
"Sorry," said Barry Levine. "Which one of you said that?"
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