Luminarium by Alex Shakar
Soho Press, 2011

What do Hacky Sack, Zulu shamans, Gandalf, Jedi knights, Ginko baloba, Pac Man, La-Z-Boy and the Czech Republic have in common?  They are all referenced in this novel — along with every other political and popular culture element since the early 70’s.  When merged with the plot-relevant references to 9-11, the dot com bust and Hindu mythology, the read was heavy.  This unbelievably engaging plot was bogged down with clutter — I was sprinting to the finish wearing a fully loaded flak jacket.  For the last hundred pages, I wasn’t sure if I would make it. 

Fred Brounian can’t sink much lower into his depression.  His twin brother is dying, and he makes a string of terrible life-altering decisions in his grief.  Like the depressed, philosophising college freshman in college, Fred wanders aimlessly through what is left of his New York city life and enrolls in a clinical trial.  He is haunted by strange electronic messages and cyber-visitations.  Are they real or are they part of his mental state? 

While this novel is definitely not a light pool-side read, it is not lacking in interest.  Boring it is not.  Every day I pined to discover: what does the brain stimulation experiment do, does the Reiki work, and what is the significance of the gripping hand tattoo.  There were a thousand more questions, all which were answered in a modern, artful crescendo.  Despite the burdens of clutter, Luminarium goes in my stack of novels to re-read. 

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