Books On Odd Young Men

Two new novels by two young male writers both of which feature major characters who are rather odd young men. The books are The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball and Lowboy by John Wray.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And now, we turn to two new novels set in New York. Jesse Ball's "The Way Through Doors" is an inventive Manhattan love story, while John Wray's novel, "Lowboy," was written on the New York subway.

Alan Cheuse reviews them both.

ALAN CHEUSE: "The Way Through Doors" plays with plot and language with an ease and skillfulness we don't always find even in the work of young writers who like to take chances.

The book opens with a large dash and a giant letter Y in the spirit of Ulysses. We then trip the lights fantastic around New York City. The young male protagonist, Selah Morse, gets tapped for the job of city inspector, which means nothing and everything in the sideways world of Jesse Ball's Manhattan.

Almost immediately, Selah witnesses a traffic accident in which a lovely young woman named Mora Klein is struck by a taxi. The young inspector, struck by the young woman, accompanies her to the hospital and learns she's lost her memory.

He sets out to discover it for her. He takes the reader along with him on his journey in a series of narrative adventures, stories within stories within stories. They seem to loop forward and then back and then forward again in graceful unfoldings that suggest the narrative equivalent of the curves conjured up by Mandelbrot and his work on fractals.

Forget about the math and think of "Alice in Wonderland" and the 1999 movie "Being John Malkovich." That way, you'll have some sense of the delights of Jesse Ball's charming experiment in narrative.

John Wray's main character, in his novel "Lowboy," is a schizophrenic teenager on the lam. Lowboy sees himself as having a calling, warning folks that the world is about to end in fire, and he evades capture by his mother and a police detective for a good part of a long day while riding the subway.

But John Wray captures Lowboy almost immediately and gives him to us in intense, sharp pages. Wray's really good at fusing physical states and distressed mental states, as in this moment when Lowboy's companion, the high school girl, is trying to teach him about intense kissing.

She took a half-step forward and let her knuckles catch under his jaw, a stricken feeling and a voluptuousness. There was no way of telling was it the best thing or the worst thing that could happen.

But when you're reading "Lowboy" or "The Way Through Doors," you know in the hands of these talented young creators that it's the best thing.

NORRIS: Alan Cheuse reviewed the new novels "Lowboy" and "The Way Through Doors."

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