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Uncomfortably Numb

Imagine a character. He has no memory. He feels no pain. None of the people around him know who he is (or was)—no home, no friends, no family, no past. Where would you put him?
In Numb*, his first novel, Sean Ferrell places his title character first in a struggling Texas circus, followed by stints in New York and Los Angeles, in search of his past, his present, fame, fortune, love, friendship, and his identity. Without any marketable skills about which he is aware—save his inability to feel pain—Numb is uniquely alone.
My initial reaction was that none of this felt real, but I rebelled against that. I told myself that I’d been reading too much nonfiction lately, or that I was expecting too much out of the story. Suspend disbelief and give the damn book a chance!
So I suspended disbelief and gave the damn book a chance. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that the story did not seem to be real. The problem was that it did not ring true. 
I wished to care about Numb. I didn’t. 
I wanted to be blown away by Ferrell’s writing. I wasn’t. 
I hoped for a moment of transcendence when Ferrell, Numb, and I could all have an epiphany about the nature of identity. It didn’t come.
Numb faces more struggles than a person can be expected to bear. Unfortunately, they seem to be more than Ferrell can bear, too. Bouncing back and forth among so many internal problems diminishes the importance of each one. Worse yet, without any one compelling issue, the sum of all the issues seems insignificant, too.
Any way you look at it—from a perspective of plot, character, or theme—Ferrell’s first novel is an ambitious one. For me, however, he bit off more than he could chew. Ferrell’s very premise shows the vividness of his imagination, and his award-winning short stories show his quality as a writer. This time, though, neither of these attributes was quite as clearly evident as this reader would have hoped.
*Numb, by Sean Ferrell, is available in paperback and on the Kindle from Harper Perennial.
FTC Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of the book I received from the publisher.

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