I started Fiona Maazel’s Woke Up Lonely on the LA Metro one morning and ended up missing my stop, emerging instead in the epicenter of Hollywood’s madness. As I plowed my way through the guys dressed as Spiderman and hordes of tourists getting on and off double-decker star tours, I felt like a stranger in a familiarly strange land—which set the tone for the rest of my experience with Maazel’s book.
The story centers around Thurlow Dan, a schlubby outsider who happens to be the leader of the Helix, an alarmingly popular culty group promising understanding and intimacy for the alienated, and his ex-wife Esme, the government operative who’s been tasked with taking him down. Nimbly madcap, Maazel dances us through the levels of her characters’ history and existence: Ohio, Florida, California, North Korea, laundromats, secured compounds, secret underground cities, stolen helicopters, past, present, and projected future—everything’s packed in there. At the heart of all this flurrying action is an ongoing conversation about our desperate need for connection with one another, and the almost insurmountable obstacles that stand in the way of true intimacy.
It’s been said by others, but Maazel has a distinctly DeLillo flair, with a shade of Robert Heinlein, too. Mostly, this style works in her favor across the spread of Woke Up Lonely. We’re entertained from start to finish, and it helps that the underlying themes—increasing alienation, the desire to be engulfed in a community or movement—are pretty zeitgeist-y at the moment, making it easy to draw connections. Immediately leaping to mind is the orgasmic meditation espoused by OneTaste devotees (check out the Gawker expose) and the recently-released documentary The Institute (dir. Spencer McCall), which documents the alternate reality of the project-slash-cult Jejune Institute. And I could go on; these two works barely scratch the surface of trend pieces about the growing collective longing for connection and its foil, the alienating influence of technology. [Ed. note—if you’re still curious about that subject check out the Bookmarked for Dave Eggers’ The Circle.]
Woke Up Lonely never transcends a thinkpiece level of discussion about these issues, so by about halfway through, it feels a bit like we’re being whacked over the head with a stick whenever these themes creep to the surface. It’s no big deal though, because Maazel’s voice and dextrous way with narrative is pleasurable enough on its own. Her style is razor sharp, funny, and galloping, sweeping the reader into her narrative of lonely people in search of something bigger, just before they have time to think about where they’re going and why they’re going with it.