Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell. Publisher: Soho Press (2013). Contemporary fiction. Hardcover. 320 pages. ISBN: 978-16116951252.
Opening sentence: “It is unfortunate for me that I am, by most any objective measure, a genius.”
A fantastical novel that’s simultaneously foreign and futuristic in its imagination. Confusing and quixotic. Transported 100 years into the future a time-traveler celebrates his birthday with versions of himself—the Elders, the Youngsters, Seventy, the Drunk, the Suit, the Inventor, Yellow, Screwdriver—when he finds his future self’s corpse thus stumbling on an intensive mystery to reverse this morbid doomsday. Swarming with Me’s and paradoxes. Author Sean Ferrell utilizes a particularly dry, sharp tone when describing the time-traveler interacting with alternate versions of himself. [“Things hadn’t ended well. I sought refuge in a crowd of myself. Of course, I found none, no compassion, no support.”]
“The four of us had our own death to prevent, but each of us was too myopic to consider anyone but himself. Each of us in that room was a ball of self-centered anxiety, a nervous animal waiting for the opportunity to claw. Yellow, twitching with panic, kept himself at a distance, his arms folded defensively.”
Man in the Empty Suit generally zips along in a smirking way. The birthday party with all the Me’s being the clear focal point to the novel. Soon the central time-traveler leaves the party to investigate the shooting and the mysterious female party guest. He’s transported into a dark future where people trade work for sandwiches and roam a wearied Manhattan with dilapidated buildings, lacking hospitals and reliable public transportation. The connection to his dead self appears to be the woman at this part so he manages to entrust himself into her life and into her equally beguiling situation. She’s an actress assigned a role by a dying man. The role of his dead daughter. He wants to remember and re-enact happier days. Of course the role-playing becomes rather murky for both parties.
As the ensuing mystery lagged further out I felt myself aching for the interaction between the Me’s and less undercover detective work. If Ferrell focused on the Me’s I’d be much more satisfied. I’m compelled by some of these Me’s. How’d they get the various nomenclatures? Who are they and where are they time-traveling to and from?
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Soho Press.