Woke Up Lonely

A cult leader. His ex-wife, and his nine-year-old daughter sit atop a radio tower, 210 feet in the air. They are having a last picnic. In fact, you’re watching the three of them on your TV screen.

Let’s back up a bit, shall we?

Thurlow Dan started the Helix because he realized that he himself was lonely. He also realized that the world around him was suffering from the same condition, too.

Esme Hoss is running a reconnaissance mission translating North Korean when she’s asked to get intel on the guy she knows from childhood: the leader of the Helix, one Thurlow Dan. During her time with this man, she’s determined not to have sex with him–because all she’s been doing for the past six months is sleep with people.

Of course, the two fall in love and Esme ends up pregnant. She leaves her husband a year after they married; Lo’s infidelity was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For years after, Lo searches for any sign of his wife and daughter. He travels the U.S., while drumming up recruitment for the Helix. This is all that keeps him going, and even then, Lo has moments of despair, moments where he doubts he’ll ever see his daughter Ida or his ex-wife Esme again.

Woke Up Lonely is a spy novel, a love story, and of course, a message about the dangers of loneliness. Fiona Maazel writes with wit and outright sadness. At the very heart of her novel is a future projection of what it might have been if a cult had been started in the late 80s or 90s.

While the narrative takes place in 2005, this novel still is very timely. One part in particular–especially the sections about the Helix and North Korea–felt like it could’ve happened last week. The bits about Esme spying on the Koreans also felt like it could’ve happened in recent months.

Even the premise–loneliness becoming a new pandemic–is something almost everyone is dealing with in the 21st century. In the age of technology, where we’re more connected than ever, lots of us feel alone. Why hasn’t someone come up with a Helixesque cult already? A place where people meet, discuss their lives, and reconnect with one another.

Yet, there’s the seedy underbelly of Cincinnati where nefarious activities take place, is also another realm of the Helix. Gambling and sex are two things that a couple of the characters experience, not to mention a fighting ring made up of regular people. This is where the cult seems to have diverted from Thurlow’s good intentions–getting his wife and daughter back–and become something else.

This book isn’t for everyone. Without an audiobook, I probably would’ve slogged through it. Woke Up Lonely does take some getting used to, partly because of Maazel’s unique writing style. She tends to throw out words that aren’t commonly known to the general public–which is fine, I just get caught up in looking up the words she uses even when the narrator has moved on. Still, I enjoyed this spin on cults. Thurlow, in mind, wasn’t really a bad guy. He just happened to make some not great decisions in his life. He wasn’t evil. At one point in the novel, his wife comments on how he isn’t really a threat.

If you like reading about fictional cults, espionage, and a unique attempt to cure loneliness, pick this book up.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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