This review will include my thoughts on the audio book version in addition to the content.
I’m very torn on this book. I would describe the story as very Alice in Wonderland-ish, only more modern, a male lead and written for adults.
The premise was interesting. I genuinely found the story funny where it was meant to be and I liked all of the side characters a little bit more than the main character, Ben. Overall though, I got a little bored of the story after a bit. It was one extremely weird thing after another all with extremely weird solutions that Ben would just happen to have or be able to figure out. I understand that was more or less the point, but after a while, I realized there was no real sense of urgency, no worry of loss. I stopped really caring about him. I was also not too fond of the way everything ended.
I did really enjoy the narrator for this book. The voices for each character were great and he had good energy through the whole story.
This wasn’t a terrible book, and definitely worth a read, but I didn’t leave it feeling like I got something from the story.
Full Review with Spoilers
I have such mixed emotions about this book. I struggled trying to decide exactly how much I liked this one. I admit I liked it less as I kept reading.
Main character Ben is a little too forgettable. He never really stands out to me. I enjoy all of the side characters much more than him. I do understand that was part of the point. Ben is an average guy living an average and mostly good life before he’s suddenly in a Wonderland type world with a more graphic twist. Every character he meets is interesting, funny and unique. The character Crab was the best part of the story in my opinion and we even find out crab is simply Ben himself 10 or so years in the future.
I understand that the author created this completely nonsensical world that Ben stumbles into, but after a while the concept got boring. Everything was so off the wall and random that I stopped being interested. I didn’t find reason to look any deeper into things. The symbolism was evident when it was used and if there was a lesson that Ben himself needed to learn I wasn’t sure what it was. Every happenstance encounter Ben had always had a really obscure solution that would be available, like for instance magic seeds that would turn into exactly what Ben needed when he needed it.
I kept expecting to see a point take shape somewhere but never did. Ben’s most strict rule in the beginning of his journey was “follow the path.” He learns after several attempts, if he strays off the path something will try to kill him and near the end of the book he finally figures out that he cannot die if he remains on it no matter how much something makes him suffer. The entire time he is gone, which is anywhere from 10-12 years, he only wants to get back to his family. There doesn’t seem to be a message of appreciating what you have in life because he already does and makes that very clear several times.
The concept of God is brought up often. Ben goes back and forth with not believing in God or just calling him a cruel asshole for putting him through everything. Then he meets Cisco, a God loving Spaniard from 1485. At a point in their escape/journey together Cisco convinces Ben that praying to God is the answer to walking through a wall of fire. Ben relents insisting that he really means his prays and it works. After this the concept of God isn’t really brought up again and I can’t tell if the author is intending for us to reflect on this and what Ben thinks about the whole thing, especially when Ben and Cisco part ways.
Ben learns halfway through the book as well that he has to find The Producer. He, and we, are lead to believe he is the one pulling the strings and that the end of the road lies in finding him. When Ben get’s to that point he figures out he himself is The Producer, yet there is still the Executive Producer to confront. Again I felt like everything the author was trying to tell us ends up getting ret-conned or tossed aside when it suites the story.
From this point on, which is essentially the end of the book, things get really murky for me. Bobby, the Executive Producer, explains that Ben was the one shaping the world as he went through it, subconsciously of course, while Bobby himself sort of made sure everything ran smoothly. Ben is then given a choice: he can stay in this world and BE the producer, shaping everything as he wants it for eternity or, he can go back to the life he knew and NEVER be able to tell anyone about his time on the path. If he does, he dies instantly. After a little time thinking, Ben cuts himself in half. One half of himself, the version that is 10 or so years older and went through everything, goes through the door that leaves him in that world while a younger version of himself, the version we met at the start of the book, goes back home.
We follow the version that goes home to his wife and kids and when he and his wife look at each other he is struck with the realization that she had also been on the path some few years before. End story.
I really didn’t like the ending. It was so open ended and left me with one burning question: What was the point? Was Ben supposed to learn a lesson? Was he supposed to grow? I didn’t really feel like he got anything out of his time on the path other than maybe becoming a darker more cynical version of himself. I really didn’t see the significance of his wife having gone through it as well.
The narrator for this book, Christopher Lane, did a fantastic job. He really brought the characters to life for me. I can’t imagine any of them sounding any other way.
Overall I do feel like I had a few more negatives when looking at the overall concept. Really, the ending was lackluster and unsatisfying. The journey itself was interesting and funny with a colorful cast of characters, but at the end of the day I just failed to see the point of it all.