The Harshest Reality by Kevin D'Onofrio

The Harshest Reality

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A disturbed genius becomes obsessed with ridding the world of reality TV stars in D’Onofrio’s (Take Me Out at the Ballgame, 2015, etc.) latest thriller.

Jonathan Tyler Sullivan’s eidetic memory ultimately led to getting perfect SAT scores when he was 7 and obtaining a master’s degree from MIT when barely a teen. But the socially awkward boy was also bullied by peers. He dreams of someday having a job working with dolphins, but instead, his passionate nature leads him toward a hatred for reality television; its participants’ obnoxious antics represent all that’s wrong with society. The feds don’t immediately tie the murders of several reality TV stars together since their deaths look like accidents or suicides, but Special Agent Ryan Samuels works toward finding answers. The novel provides a fascinating look at a serial killer: Jonathan’s essentially the star of an intimate story that he himself narrates. The plot starts leisurely, beginning with Jonathan as a young boy in Brookline, Massachusetts. But D’Onofrio deftly limns his moral descent. Jonathan spends much of his time after graduating from MIT watching dolphins, funded by the sale of his patent for boosting a tablet’s performance. His moral compass starts to spin when he feels like people are devoting their attention to poorly scripted television instead of cetaceans, and he starts preparing to right the world’s wrongs by purchasing firearms and learning how to pick locks. Some of the murder victims aren’t remotely sympathetic, like Cassandra, a rich football wife who neglects her children in favor of shopping and partying. But at least one is compassionate—a fact unknown to Jonathan, who only sees her TV persona. Metaphors can be heavy-handed, like Jonathan’s frequent comparison of himself to a killer whale. But the straightforward prose is effectively unsettling; Jonathan frankly portrays a life that he believes is perfectly reasonable but is unhinged.

A thoroughly eerie story of a murderer with the potential to rattle even the most seasoned readers.


Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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