How is pain tied to our emotions? Can someone who feels no physical sensations also experience distinct intellectual/emotional ups and downs. As anyone who has suffered the death of a loved one or been through a bad break up, there are sometimes profound physical effects associated.
And if you cannot feel pain, coupled with a complete void where personal history should be, what kind of person will you be?
These questions are raised right at the start of Numb by Sean Ferrell.
You see there is man called Numb who arrives at a fleabag Texas circus in a suit, tattered and haggered, with no memory and can feel no pain. As a result Numb became a freak-show oddity who rockets to fame in unlikely, but strangely believable American fashion.
Numb rises from desperate obscurity to the heights of pop culture and is adored by the eager hoi palloi. However, Ferrell crafts Numb as emotionally enigmatic from the start and this provides a strange depth in an unfeeling character.
From the dusty barrens of Texas to the glitz of Hollywood we follow a human being that is the embodiment of vapid. You’re not sure whether you pity Numb, hate him or simply want to ignore him. Is he dumb, disinterested or wily? Is this a symptom of amnesia? Numb’s own lack of feeling makes him almost chameleon-like, will he care, will he not. And when he does invest emotionally, how far can he truly go.
Numb is brought to New York by a one-time-protector, turned exploiter extraordinaire known as Mal. We see their relationship fragment and rejoin in ways only fiction as strange as life could produce. Anything for fame is the world in which Numb lives and you are unsure how sincere the bond between Mal and Numb really is.
Yet there is a shock or two in their relationship, stronger than Numb’s amorous peaks and valleys, that makes the reader check everything you thought you knew about the two friends.
We are also introduced to strange artists and lovers, S&M supermodels, publicists, slimy actors and agents. This world is media driven, slightly unbelievable, yet somehow very real. A tricky world to create and while easy to read it does not diminish Ferrell’s skills. To the contrary, its the cagey talent of smart old school writer. Ferrell spools out character development subtly, behind the scenes, giving you an uncluttered version of pretty much everyone, except Numb and Mal.
Numb’s rise from an emotional flat line happens precipitously at the story’s conclusion. And just when it gets interesting, Ferrell nestles Numb in a place where mundanity provides hope. And where pain, possibly, becomes more than a feeling.
Numb is a book that reads like a strangers journal placed in your hands. Ferrell’s oddly unfeeling world is engrossing, without using any story telling cliches to evoke emotional responses. Ferrell seems to challenge the reader, go ahead read this book and experience it as Numb would. And that is pretty damn difficult and pretty damn skillful of Ferrell.
Numb by Sean Ferrell was received by the Boston Book Bums as a free review copy.