A man burdened by visions featuring multilingual words possesses a remarkable ability some believe could threaten the world in this thriller.
Caught in a wildfire, California teacher Jon Wanamaker and his bus driver friend, Ernie Renssalear, dodge an unknown assailant’s gunshots. As if that weren’t enough, they later find floating in nearby Lake Isadora a bottle with a brain and note inside. The cryptic note references the Upsweep Project and Amelynd Island, both of which reporter Remedy Conover learns about for an article she’s writing. She’s shocked to discover that four years ago, every human subject in Upsweep, a secret government-funded study, died except one—her ex-husband, Jon. Since the project, Jon has intermittently seen words, like printed text, overwhelm his field of vision. The words appear as “ribbons” (digital ribbon boards) and in multiple languages, including Tlingit of Jon’s Native American clan. But they also lead Jon to an extraordinary ability; some associated with Upsweep want him to develop this power while others, such as the gunman at the wildfire, consider him too dangerous to live. Various parties converge in Sirretta Valley to either help Jon or somehow ensure he doesn’t become a menace. Cray’s (Piercing Maybe, 2018, etc.) twisty tale unravels at a frantic pace. Plot turns make some of the characters all the more striking: Individuals from Jon’s Alaskan hometown, for example, blame him for the death of a young girl. Furthermore, the story explores multiple sclerosis-afflicted Remedy, whose disability is a condition, not a flaw. It even precipitates the indelible image of the reporter using a kitchen broom as an aid instead of a cane. Little can be said regarding Jon’s ability without spoiling the narrative. But it’s on full dizzying display in a smashing final act that should leave readers debating who the real villain is—or if there is one. Unsurprisingly, the prose is linguistically appealing: “Firefly-like sparkles flashed as daylight caught the tiny shards of glass sprinkled across the man’s filthy cheeks.”
A smart, unorthodox, and delectable superpower tale.