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Psychic mapping and the urban undergound: 'Lowboy' by John Wray

April 11, 2009 |  1:20 pm

John Wray wrote his novel "Lowboy" riding New York's subways, but it's not for that reason that the book's release party last month began with a reading on the L Train at rush hour. It's because "Lowboy," which we review this week, "delivers a vivid set of notes from underground tunneling into the warped adolescent mind of Will Heller, a beguiling but seriously unhinged 16-year-old paranoid schizophrenic." Will spends almost the entire novel underground.

Early on, Will finds that the subway "seemed self-contained, a closed system, but in fact it was the opposite of closed." Open and closed, hot and cold, Will could be more accurately describing the workings of his own troubled mind.

Despite its honestly earned idiosyncrasies, Wray's breakthrough novel -- arriving after two dissimilar works of historical fiction -- will likely be filed alongside the work of his bestselling Brooklyn contemporaries. "Lowboy's" meticulous mapping of metropolitan myth recalls Paul Auster's "City of Glass" and nods to the genre tics of Jonathan Lethem's "Motherless Brooklyn," the Tourette's-driven murder mystery. ...

In the clips below, Wray begins at the beginning, saying, "If you're confused, it's because you're supposed to be confused."

The reading isn't finished; parts three and four are after the jump.

Although Wray apologizes to the commuters as he and his audience leave the train in Williamsburg, there was no need; I used to commute on the L train and would have welcomed the interruption of an award-winning novelist reading for the entire car.

Wray appears at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on April 26 at 10:30 a.m., on the panel "Breaking Point" with authors Hari Kunzru, Antoine WIlson, John Haskell and moderator David Ulin.

-- Carolyn Kellogg