I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Famous Men Who Never Lived. I’m not too much of a science fiction person, and I tried to avoid anything about the book until I received it and read it myself. I’m trying out being on Tin House’s advanced reader gang, so I received the book for free. Lol yes I’m already feeling the pressure to write a good review, but I’ll try to resist and just write what I felt.
Overall I did enjoy the book. I loved all the different characters and their dialogues, and I really loved the premise. The story is about two worlds, one being our Earth as we know it, and the other, an alternate reality of our world, where supposedly our single shared history broke off into two separate parts by the event of a child who died in one world (ours) but lived on in the other (the alternate). The concept was fascinating, and I love science as it has to do with space and time; I was reeling about the idea of alternate realities far after I put the book down—even the final time.
I also found the theme of displacement really eye-opening. The book gave so many beautiful and tragic experiences of what it means to be an ‘alien’ in a foreign land. I’m only now starting to come to terms with my own displacement as a military kid, so I really connected with the people moving from one place, to suddenly be in a totally similar place, but eerily different in every way. Each character had different ways of reacting to the experience, some more violent than others, but I could see where every person was coming from. Anyone who has migrated has felt all of these emotions.
My major critique of the book though was its lack, or confusion of direction. This part might have spoilers, but basically I spend the first 3/5ths of the book thinking we were going to find out exactly what happened to cause the split in reality and see if the characters could get back to their world—that it was more of a mystery the characters were solving. But then the final 2/5ths made the direction more clear—that it was more about the characters coming to terms with what had happened to them, and the book was more of a directory of many different people’s coping mechanisms and healing (or destruction). So the transition of me realizing I wasn’t going to learn the secrets of multiple realities was a little severe and I was upset (not actually angry, but you know I was hurt! I wanted a mystery story!), but once I came to terms and settled back into the story, it was again really interesting to learn about these characters.
And perhaps the writer K Chess wrote the book this way purposefully, so that I myself could feel that pain of wanting to solve the mystery, but having to come to terms with living in the reality I was actually in.
I would say if you enjoy science fiction or even sociological sort of books, you’ll enjoy this one. I kind of call myself a laidback picky reader in that I am particularly harsh about which books I absolutely love, but I can get into a pretty wide range of works (both in subject and in literary syntax). It’s pretty easy for me to get sucked in. And it was especially easy for me to get sucked into Famous Men Who Never Lived.
I give it a 1/1
Thanks to Tin House again for sending this my way. I’m working through a few more book reviews and my 2019 goal of reading 30 books is going very well so far. Anyone read any good books recently?