Publication date: April 1st 2014
Many people have experienced loneliness in their life but for Thurlow Dan it was a call to organize a movement. The Helix is his solution to the isolated insulated lives we live—a reach-out-and-connect-with-someone group with no ideology beyond sharing and human interaction. Unfortunately, it is this lack of forethought that has landed Thurlow in some big trouble in Fiona’s Maazel’s novel, Woke Up Lonely. On the surface, his group is a success, with chapters spreading out across the United States and more people joining all the time.
It cost only ten dollars a head to be here, but the reward was priceless. The idea, thus: Come in with your best friends, whose lives are as alien to yours as yours is to them, come in steeped in the tide of loneliness and despair that grows out of precisely these moments when you’re supposed to feel a part of things, because, after all, you’re hanging out with your best friends. Come in a wreck, leave happy.
A closer look reveals that what he wants most is to be reunited with his government agent ex-wife and their daughter, whom he has not seen since she was an infant. Little does he know just how interested in him the government is and that, in fact, his ex-wife has been tracking him since she left him, aided in her surveillance by a master of disguise who creates ingenious masks that change the landscape of her face and body—to the point that she masquerades as Kim Jong-il, when Thurlow makes a misguided trip to North Korea.
Unfortunately, the situation on both sides has reached flare point. Esme, Thurlow’s ex, is running out of ways to protect her earnest but clueless ex-husband from a government crackdown and he is running out of reasons to live without her and their daughter. Both embark on a plan to resolve these issues, which implodes to darkly hilarious effect. Unfortunately, Esme’s plan involves four civilians who think they’ve been hired by the Department of the Interior but suddenly find themselves assigned to penetrate Thurlow’s compound in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Woke Up Lonely is a highly inventive, unpredictable satire that looks at the two most basic emotions, fear and love, and runs with them through a cast of characters that is odd and endearing. In Esme, Maazel’s terse prose comes to life, as a woman who seems unable to deal with the emotion of love, and so spends more time running away from Thurlow than she does with him. She’s a brilliant undercover agent but her extensive use of disguise applies to her own emotions, as if, in being so many different people for different reasons, she no longer knows what is real for herself. The only constant is her fierce desire to protect her daughter, even when she doesn’t know how to relate to her.
Does she really need to know there are people out there who cannot help but destroy each other? Or that, for all my efforts to forget you, replace you, bury you, I have failed on all counts? I have been with many people since we split but have abandoned myself to none of them. Not even for a second. But I want our daughter to know different. I want her to think life is full of chances, not just one.
For his part, Thurlow is a hapless man, at once both spoiled and sensitive. The success of the Helix means that he is no longer physically lonely. He has designated Traveling Companions (TCs) who fulfill any teenage desire he might wish to indulge and are discarded and replaced when he becomes bored. At the same time, he has the self-awareness to know where he went wrong with Esme and to see what is happening to the Helix. He is simply incapable of focused action.
I started up a few meetings here and there. The idea? Show up. Talk. Share something of yourself. Get to know your neighbors. What I did not know then is that there are politics in numbers, and that when you bring the isolates together, sometimes they want to discuss the state of our union, to say that our lawmakers are charlatans who should be deposed and that only a sundering of this menace can return us to the values touted in the Bill of Rights.
Maazel assembles this group of loners and misfits in a way that reads like a twisted spy thriller in the beginning, with nefarious forces, a mysterious underground world and high tech surveillance. It is only as the novel progresses that the simpler and more human aspect of each character is revealed. For some their innermost desires will never be fulfilled but for others the emotion of love will be captured, even if only for a moment.