Depression and the side effects of an experimental medication plague a lovelorn Canadian sales manager in this hallucinatory debut novel.
Liam, who works at a small electronics store in Penticton, British Columbia, is enjoying a stable, happy life until a mysterious phone call at work kicks his world off of its axis. Shortly afterward, he finds himself deep in a depressive state and unwittingly starving himself to death. Help comes in the form of Dr. Romanchuk, who gives Liam an experimental drug called Draxten. But this new medication has strange side effects, notably blackouts and somnambulist behavior. His psychology-student girlfriend, Cora, tries to help, but he finds himself in a constant state of flux—waking up sunburned and half-naked on the beach, or pursued by libidinous women and maneuvered into sex. He’s also suffering from fractured memories and the heartache of a long-dead love affair, and dogged by a belligerent Cockney man, who teases him with the truth of his situation, telling him, “You’re full of questions about the problems you have created.” As Liam’s blackouts intensify, he finds himself involved in potentially criminal situations, and after the police get involved, he finally decides to confront his problems head-on—but it may be too late to save his relationship with his one true love. Unfortunately, although true love may be the novel’s main theme, it’s undermined by Liam’s passive, pseudo-erotic encounters with a number of attractive women, which provide less thematic argument than adolescent fantasy. However, this is a testament to how Lloyd thoroughly places the reader in the head of his dissociative protagonist. But Liam’s breakdown comes too early in the story to make his fugue state narratively engaging, and the blackout conceit leaves the novel feeling episodic and, at times, incoherent. This is exacerbated by frequent typographical errors, such as “shear” instead of “sheer” and “vile” instead of “vial,” which may make readers think that the novel’s broken structure is a bug, not a feature.
A muddled look at extreme mental illness that poses more questions than it answers.