I Am No One: A Novel, by Patrick Flanery, (Tim Duggan Books, Random House), 352 pages, release date 5 July, 2016
I Am No One is one of those novels with lots of promise that never quite manages to live up to that promise. That said, it’s still an enjoyable read—but one keeps wondering what more the writer might have done with it.
Patrick Flanery grounds this novel in post-9/11 New York. Jeremy O’Keefe, a competent, but not brilliant, academic left the U.S. for a position in Britain shortly after the twin towers fell. A decade later, O’Keefe finds himself in the U.S. once more with a position at New York University.
Flanery imbeds O’Keefe in a creepy, Big Brother-like predicament: O’Keefe receives a box from an unknown sender containing computer print outs tracking years of his internet use. Not long after, another box, with more internet data, arrives. This is followed by a third box containing years of O’Keefe’s phone records. O’Keefe’s situation is at once remarkable, but all-too-possible in our era of increasingly intrusive homeland security measures.
Then, there’s the creepy young man O’Keefe keeps running into. Who is he? Is he deliberately staging their encounters? What relationship might there be between his vaguely defined corporate IT work and the surveillance O’Keefe finds himself under?
The novel comes to a conclusion that’s satisfying, but not remarkable. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that the secondary characters—particularly O’Keefe’s lover, a former student raised in Egypt—aren’t all fully developed. Readers understand why O’Keefe loves her, buy they never really understand what has drawn her to O’Keefe.
If you like mood pieces, this novel will provide a satisfying read. Unfortunately, it’s not the full-fleshed, ominous portrait of present-day America that it might have been.
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