I have a habit of frequenting these discount bookstores at outlet malls. They often have a special in addition to the discounts; like buy four books get the fifth free, etc. So I end up buying four or five fiction books. Usually I have no knowledge of the book except what I read on the cover and flap jackets (is that the term?). I go for interesting and thin. Something that I can pick up and read rather quickly. It is sort of like a palette cleanser for my mind. Through this little habit I have stumbled on some interesting works, like David Foster Wallace, Kevin Wignall, and Brock Clarke, and some less interesting – like Ian Rankin.
On a recent excursion I stumbled upon The Man Who Turned Into Himself by David Ambrose and was intrigued. This week I decided I needed a quick pick-me-up read and chose Ambrose.
I was not familiar with Ambrose’s work prior to reading this 1995 (US) release, but apparently he followed it up with more psychological thrillers (for more see his website). I guess that is how you would describe The Man Who Turned Into Himself (TMWTIH). It is sort of a mix of mystery, thriller, science, and para-normal. The one thing that is consistent is just when you think you have a grasp on what is happening Ambrose gives a twist. At various points I was thinking of The Muse Asylum and Talking to Richard (the former quite good, the latter less so).
TMWTIH centers on the life of Rick Hamilton. Hamilton seems to be living the perfect life as a independent publisher of small trade journals, but on the day of his big meeting with the bank everything begins to unwind. He falls of the roof of his house, nearly has an accident on the way to the meeting and, warned by a weird premonition, rushes wildly to the scene of a car accident to find his wife dying. From this point on the plot only gets wilder.
Since the plot twists are the foundation of this short work I won’t cover the details but, as is hinted at from the title, the work involves parallel universes, doppelgangers, psychoanalysis, and a healthy dose of quantum physics. Ambrose basically uses the Many World Theory as a plot device both to explore the physics and ideas involved but also to tackle issues like identity and how small choices make big impacts over time. “Rick” Hamilton is the happy side with a loving marriage, a beautiful child, and meaningful career. “Richard” is the dark side: a troubled marriage, no children, and a soulless job. For Rick Richard’s life is a nightmare and he views Richard as a soulless jerk. But living inside Richards head reveals something more complex. In the end, Mr. Hamilton’s identity is not so black and white.
TMWTIH is an entertaining and thought provoking read. I thought the science sections came off a little forced at times; as if plot device was forced into the work. But most of the time Ambrose keeps the skeleton from showing through. Ambrose skillfully weaves in plot twists and character complexity just when the story might begin to bog down. Anyone familiar with movies like Memento or The Butterfly Effect (the former excellent the latter terrible by the way) won’t find the story quite so revolutionary but at the time it was likely much more “out there.” I thought the way he weaved in the Emma character was particularly skillful and inventive. Although I did find parts of the ending a little over-the-top, Ambrose kept the suspense up very well. All in all I found it to be just what I was looking for: a quick, entertaining and unconventional read. Check it out if you are looking for the same thing.