Hollis Kessler has just finished college, and now he’s coasting. He has neither purpose nor direction and can only tie everything he sees into a pop culture web of references. When he sees a woman, for example, he and his friends will immediately tell her what famous woman she resembles. The first woman they see looks like Denise Crosby, who played Lieutenant Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Hollis and his friends otherwise spend most of their time together gossiping about what jobs and internships their peers have gotten while waiting for something more interesting than their web of pop culture references. Unfortunately, Hollis is becoming increasingly distracted by his memories when he spends time with his friends. Though Star Trek might be his favorite touchstone, even “The House of the Rising Sun” shows up eventually.
The only thing that seems to occupy his attention is Alix, who speaks a Slavic language Hollis doesn’t recognize. He meets her at an ATM machine, where Alix is using the phone to call international. Hollis follows her home, but he does not find a lasting purpose, so he returns to his friends and their pointless, post-graduation lives.
It is not easy trying to find a path, and Grossman captures this sense of uncertainty very well. Having said that, his references to Star Trek, though appreciated, don’t make for captivating reading either. I was a little annoyed that Alix, who is much more interesting than Hollis and his friends combined, only showed up for a few pages.
So, while reading Warp, I, like Hollis, found myself thinking of other works. Alix reminded me of Marla Singer from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Hollis’s night on the town reminded me of Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, and Hollis and his friends reminded me Lenny Abramov and his friends in Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. No one Douglas Coupland novel came to mind, but I often felt like Hollis could have been in one of Coupland’s books as well. That’s good company to be in, but I will admit that I preferred all of the novels I associated Warp with to Hollis’s adventure.
Perhaps I am not the only person that felt this way. Lev Grossman wrote an account, “Terrors of the Amazon,” for Salon.com about what it was like to read negative reviews of his debut novel on Amazon.com. He made up fake accounts and gave his novel five-star reviews. Warp is not a five-star novel, and Grossman has described it as a flop on his blog, but it is nothing to be ashamed of either (there is no mention of Warp on Grossman’s home page*). It’s certainly not as rough as Clive Cussler’s first novel, Pacific Vortex!.
And for what it’s worth, Warp also reminded me of Quentin Coldwater’s search for meaning in Grossman’s The Magicians. So clearly Grossman figured it out eventually. Readers curious about Grossman’s roots should consider reading Warp.
*As of this writing, Warp does not have a Wikipedia entry. I am confident that a self-described nerd like Grossman could put one together if he wanted to.
When you first starting describing this novel, I immediately thought of Grossman’s “The Magicians” as well. “The Magicians” is currently the only book of his that I’ve read, but I’m no wondering if that kind of character hold some particular fondness for Grossman. A kind of author avatar, perhaps? Makes me curious to check out his other works, at the very least.
I think Grossman only tells one story; the over-educated slacker trying to
find his place in the world. I thought CODEX was his first novel and I didn’t care for that.
@Bibliotropic: He has described Warp as an “autobiographical affair” on his blog. I saw him interview China Mieville a couple years ago and he seems nicer than Quentin.
@Marion: If he does only tell one story, he’s at least getting better at it after every novel.
Yes, you can tell the same story a variety of ways and I do like how he is experimenting with it.