A Book Review by Alexander Castiglione
In Joshua Mohr’s fifth release – All This Life (released July 14th, 2015) – he spins a yarn about several characters and how their lives intersect, using the common thread of a wildly public and equally outrageous group suicide to stitch a poignant and emotional tapestry of the human condition. Told from the perspective of vastly different characters – ranging from a naïve young woman, to a tormented recovering alcoholic who abandoned her son, to a young man with brain damage from a tragic accident – he brings these characters to life: creating a robust cast which sucks the reader into a Mohr-ian San Franciscan setting.
Mohr has the incredible ability to pull our heart strings, and make us feel the alienation of say, a teenage boy who films the suicides, and is addicted to his cell phone. But in the subtext he touches on the false “followers” modern technology and social media present us; illuminating that although we are all now connected in a technological sense, we are even more alienated than we were in the pre-Columbian era when knew the world was flat. In this regard, the text is very deep, incredibly enthralling, and touching on multiple levels. Mohr’s ability to capture and emulate the tesseract of human emotion is quite remarkable.
He also has created an intersecting microcosm within his own works, all the way from Some Things That Meant The World To Me – his first release (and at the risk of breaking the objective voice of journalism, one of my favorite books, I suggest you all read it) to his most recent. In each of his five books, he ties back to the previous, however subtle; and All This Life is no different. He cleverly inserts a bar with space-black walls and mirror shards everywhere that was the setting in previous books, and stylistically, I find it to be a deft literary move, a poke in the ribs to make sure you are paying attention.
And it’s hard not to pay attention, to empathize with the characters in this release. He runs the gamut of personality types and age demographics, using setting, tone, narrative shifts and internal dialogue to reveal a veracity of character that is hard to capture from a literary perspective. We feel the alienation of the boy with brain trauma, and yearn for him to be able to spit like the rappers he envies. We suffer with Sara, a naïve and seemingly lost young woman, who trusts too easy and makes a mistake – and this mistake goes viral in the worst sense of the word. We endure tragedy, loss and the ensuing, cannibalistic guilt with Noah, an alpha-male, corporate ladder climber. In a sense, we live the lives of these amazingly real and rotund characters for 296 pages.
While not outwardly gritty simply to shock, this book does more than tell a story; it comments on our culture – our increasingly global culture – where we place our self-worth on followers and likes, where we document the world through the lens of a smartphone and don’t experience it as we should. Subtly, he drives home the point that we are not digital entities, we are real, physical beings that should interact with the world around us – not live tweet our every thought in the hopes somebody retweets us, validates our notions, endorses our emotions. And he fleshes out the ignominy and strain of parent/child relationships within this crass, online-trolling civilization we have created, showing that amidst the ones and zeroes, there lies a person with thoughts, feelings, doubts, dreams, loves, and hatreds.
While very accessible to read, the book has depth. It brings to light issues I’m sure we’ve all thought on some level, and introduces new dynamics that we may have overlooked as a collective. It keeps you thinking even after you turn the last page and that in and of itself is a literary win in my book. Read it, empathize, and for God’s sake, put down your cell phones, abandon your twitter, log out of Facebook and interact with the world around you. You just may find it more fulfilling, rich, and dynamic than the latest viral video, and you’ll be better for it.