by Jack O'Connell

Algonquin Books


306pp/$24.95/April 2008

The Resurrectionist
Cover by Henry Sene Yee

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Jack O'Connell's The Resurrectionist opens up in a straight-forward way. Sweeney is reading a comic book while waiting to talk to Dr. Peck.  The novel quickly becomes more complex as O'Connell fully introduces the reader to Sweeney, whose son is in a coma and being admitted into a new facility where Sweeney hopes to get a job. The comic book also forms a strong link between Sweeney, his son, and the reader, although its importance is only shown gradually.

The chapters of The Resurrectionist don't quite alternate between different storylines.  The primary story appears to be Sweeney's work at the clinic, his care for and worry about, his son, Danny, and the accident which put his son into the coma.  Interspersed with these chapters, O'Connell gives the reader a glimpse into the comic book world of Limbo, one of the things which Sweeney shared with his son before the accident.  Limbo is a world of circus freaks, humans who don't belong to any society, but who try their best to find a place in a world which is fully comfortable turning its back on them.  Finally, O'Connell relates the story of Buzz Cote's biker gang, the Abominations, which has their own interest in Dr. Peck's clinic.

From the beginning, it is clear that the three stories will eventually come together, the fictional comic book tying more directly into Sweeney and Cote's stories as those two men meet and find themselves driven along toward the eventual denouement of the novel.  In the process, O'Connell reveals that the freakishness that is so evident among the characters of Limbo mirrors the eccentricities of the bikers who belong to the Abominations, as well as the nocturnal activities of Dr. Peck's staff and the doctor's own megalomania.

While eventually O'Connell does successfully weave his disparate stories together, the journey seems strained at times as the reader spends time trying to figure out what O'Connell is trying to do and how he is going to achieve it, an activity which can drop the reader out of the story.  Furthermore, the differences in style between the noir Abomination chapters, the semi-absurd clinic sections, and the comic-book freak sections, break any smoothness of reading as the reader must change gears with chapters.  While this seemingly is O'Connell's intention, it breaks the narrative, dropping the reader out of the complex world O'Connell is attempting to create.

O’Connell’s novel questions not only the manner in which medical research is conducted, but, to a larger extent, the way society looks at and treats its outcasts, whether they are traditional freaks, loners who just don’t function within the constraints of society, or the helpless, like Danny Sweeney, who are at the mercy of those whose job it is to protect them.

 The Resurrectionist raises a lot of interesting questions, and O’Connell has created several eccentric, and endearing, characters to get these concepts and issues across to his readers.  The only drawback is the sudden changes between sections of the novel, both stylistically and in tempo.  While this is a problem that the reader can easily overcome, it does present an obstacle in the enjoyment and pace of the novel.

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.

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