As the study progresses, lines between the subject and the experimenter blur, and reality becomes increasingly porous. Meanwhile, Fred finds himself caught up in what seems at first a cruel prank: a series of bizarre emails and texts that purport to be from his comatose brother. His new novel considers how our perceptions of the world are manipulated and controlled. The result is a strikingly metaphysical novel that never dematerializes into misty cliches, a book to challenge the mystic and the doubter alike. Weighing in at more than pages, the story is centered on twin brothers Fred and George Brounian the latter cancer-ridden and in a coma and on restless searches for meaning in several realms: some physical and mapped, others more abstract. Shakar is fearless in what existential thread he will follow — the bigger the concept, the bigger his bite.

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Start your review of Luminarium Write a review Jul 13, Randy rated it liked it It seems fitting that Alex Shakar would open his novel, Luminarium, with an invitation.

Not your garden variety party invitation, mind you. Something a bit more oblique, less straightforward. But an invitation nonetheless. Picture yourself stepping into a small, cuboid room. In the center squats an old recliner, upholstered in black vinyl. To the chairs back is affixed a jointed metal arm, possibly on loan from a desk lamp. At the end of the arm, where the bulb and shade would have gone, hangs It seems fitting that Alex Shakar would open his novel, Luminarium, with an invitation.

At the end of the arm, where the bulb and shade would have gone, hangs instead a sparkly gold motorcycle helmet, a vintage, visorless number with a chin strap. To amend his pecuniary situation, Fred decides to participate in an experiment in which his brain will be electronically manipulated to reproduce sensations associated with states of religious ecstasy.

It is at this vulnerable moment that we join Fred—or, perhaps it is more correct to say we are joined to Fred—and it is this initial experiment and its mind-expanding aftereffects that propels the ensuing narrative and palls the novel with a surreal haze.

Which brings us back to that second-person opening, our invitation. Indeed, the story is at its best when these themes bubble up organically through action and dialog.

He was already nodding before he processed that final o. Beyond humiliated, pretty much giving up at that point, he just kept nodding, resigned to the secretary calling him by a name that could have belonged to some hobbit mob henchman. Freddo said. The exchange speaks to the mercurial nature of identity, the slipperiness of personality, how difficult it is to ever pin someone down to one set of characteristics. Even when that someone is you.

And, as the novel progresses, Fred finds the people around him ever-shifting, transmuting from the familiar to inversions or permutations of their former selves. His brother George is sending him mysterious messages and appears to be sabotaging their former company even as he lies comatose in the hospital.

Meanwhile, his younger brother, the workaholic Sam, has transformed their former company from an idealistic virtual reality paradise called Urth to a military and emergency training environment and who seems to be setting Fred up for failure and humiliation. That person, or our idea of that person? When we touch them, it is not the touch we experience, but our consciousness of the touch.

These questions of duality and our own frustrated attempts to drill down to the core of reality are suggested throughout the narrative. Which brings me to my few disappointments with the novel. I get it already. If some greater force and purpose were at work in all this, he wondered, then why all the subterfuge?

Why all the arbitrariness of quantum fluctuation and genetic mutation? Why the absurdity of brains that could simulate some sense of that greater life only when they misfired? What good was a truth that could be perceived only through delusion?

How would one ever really know what the truth was, in such a system? How would one ever know from one moment to the next the right thing to do, the right way to go? Did you get through all that? Not only is this section tedious, but it also leaves the reader feeling as though he is being led by the nose. And further, these are questions that are raised with greater economy elsewhere via action and metaphor.

Still, despite these faults, I found Luminarium to be a smart and moving read. On the other, a paen to the bonds of family and the ties that bind all of humanity. The way we all move to the future while looking ever back to our past.


Alex Shakar





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