This then would be Chicago in the winter of the last year of her life. In a week’s time she would return to Stella Maris and from there wander away into the bleak Wisconsin woods. The Thalidomide Kid found her in a roominghouse on Clark Street. Near North Side. He knocked at the door. Unusual for him. Of course she knew who it was. She’d been expecting him. And anyway it wasn’t really a knock. Just a sort of slapping sound.
In a nutshell
Set in 1980 Mississippi, The Passenger follows Bobby Western a diver who has just come off a job discovering a sunken jet. Missing from the crash site is the pilot’s flight bag, the plane’s black box and the tenth passenger. As witness, he is shadowed by men with badges and more forcibly by the ghosts of his father and sister.
Set in 1972, Stella Maris follows Alicia Western, Bobby’s 20-year-old genius, and paranoid schizophrenic sister who is a doctoral candidate in mathematics. With forty thousand dollars in a plastic bag, she checks herself into a psychiatric hospital. Told entirely through the transcripts of her psychiatric sessions, Alicia recalls her childhood, surveys the intersection of physics and philosophy and introduces her hallucinations.
Book Club Notes
These books are written to be read together with Stella Maris being described as the coda (conclusion) to The Passenger. That should have been the clue to read it last, but I felt inclined to pick it up first. Halfway through, I realized my error and switched out to The Passenger, when I came back afterwards, although I understood some more context, it didn’t make any more sense.
To start with The Passenger, the synopsis leads you to believe that the central story is about a mysterious plane crash and missing passenger – it may well have been, but the story line is in no way obvious. It’s more about the contents of Bobby’s mind, his troubles, his baggage, science and morality.
With Stella Maris, you get what you are expecting – a transcript between a genius paranoid schizophrenic and her psychiatrist. It doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, but you aren’t spending all 190 pages trying to figure out what you missed.
These books were both way beyond me, dizzying and hard to follow. The contents went way over my head and they left me feeling like I wasn’t smart or thoughtful enough to read them. The writing is excellent, and you can tell there is a deep philosophical underlying message, but you have to be of that mind to get it. You have to be interested in quantum physics and inherently a deep thinker who puzzles over the meaning of life.
I read an interesting review on amazon that spoke about the negative reviews these books have received and raised a great point that sums up these books for me.
If you’re going to understand this novel, you’re going to have to work at it. There is a lot about quantum physics and human consciousness here… The book is allegorical and it’s structure reflects its content. You are meant to struggle with what is real and what isn’t and what the true story is. The blending of human consciousness and quantum mechanics in an exploration of reality makes it probably the first truly modern novel.
You love a mystery. You don’t like a plot handed to you. You’re a deep thinker and puzzle over life’s deeper meanings.
Writing – 10/10
Character Development – 10/10
Plot Twist – 5/10
Shareability – 0/10
The Nitty Gritty
A note on our book ratings
Storyline: How good is the storyline? Is it believable and complex or does it make you shake your head in its ridiculousness?
Writing: How well written is the book? Do you find yourself wowed by the writing or unimpressed?
Character Development: Do the characters evolve and grow through the book and are they multi-dimensional?
Plot Twist: Were you able to predict the end, or did the author give you some surprises along the way to keep you on your toes?
Shareability: How likely are you to share the book?