three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-The ResurrectionistKnown for his dark style, Jack O’Connell has written four previous novels set in the fictional decaying industrial town of Quinsigamond, Massachusetts: Box Nine (1992), Wireless (1993), The Skin Palace (1996), and Word Made Flesh (1999).

The Story: Unbalanced by grief, Sweeny, a recently widowed pharmacist, moves his comatose son Danny from their home in Cleveland to a clinic in Quinsigamond, where the unorthodox Dr. W. Micah Peck and his daughter Dr. Alice Peck claim to have brought two other comatose patients back to consciousness. Sweeny occupies a squalid apartment in the clinic’s basement, works as a third-shift pharmacist for the clinic (dispensing drugs from "the vault"), and spends his free time at Danny’s side, reading his son’s favorite comic book series Limbo, a dark and fantastic story that seems to have parallels to the real world. As reality and fantasy converge, Sweeny learns the truth about Dr. Peck’s secret methods.
Algonquin Books. 320 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1565125762

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"O’Connell’s previous novels were laced with lunatic humor, but his latest … is as dark as the bottom of a well. … Before long, the two sets of characters are interacting, and their respective genres are melding into a meta-narrative with common themes: love and loss, death and redemption, and the eternal devotion of fathers for their sons." Marilyn Stasio

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"At times this novel can feel too much like Limbo: not quite a father-son story about loss and recovery and expiation of guilt, nor a gothic thriller about a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein out to push boundaries of medical ethics, nor the Great American Biker Novel or serial comic about circus freaks in exile." Porter Shreve

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Until the parallels between Sweeney’s reality and Limbo begin to surface, the transitions are jarring. … Fans of his previous novels … will be glad to hear that The Resurrectionist is just as demented and deeply enjoyable." Regina Marler

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 2 of 5 Stars
"O’Connell’s attempt to play the comic-book world against the real one—and then, eventually, to merge them—is disappointingly clumsy. … O’Connell, it appears, got so swallowed up in crafting the novel’s ornate structure that he neglected the message he wanted to send." Mark Athitakis

Rocky Mountain News 2 of 5 Stars
"The ambitious parameters of O’Connell’s plot fail to come together in the end, and the reader is left with more questions than answers. The author’s attempts at maintaining two worlds are ultimately drowned by confusing plot threads and a clunky resolution." Adam Goldstein

Critical Summary

Although it has its strengths, The Resurrectionist is not for everyone. The novel slips imperfectly between grim reality and dark fantasy, and for some critics, the intense drama, imaginative scenery, and significant themes did not overcome frustrating structural difficulties. O’Connell has embedded a touching father-son story within the work; however, to reach this dramatic core, the reader must be patient and willing to overlook the novel’s difficult framework. Still, critics praised many of the book’s sections, including the compellingly written Limbo sections. Despite these weaknesses, aficionados of dark and surreal fiction will enjoy the bumpy ride into Quinsigamond; other readers may want to steer clear.