Lowboy – Makes a Big Slam


Lowboy, a novel by John Wray

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
On Sale: 3/11/2009
ISBN: 978-0-374-19416-1
ISBN-10: 0-374-19416-5


Cover art from Macmillan


A sixteen-year-old boy is about to combust. The ever-increasing fever within his body needs to be released, but it is more than a story of a young man’s first sexual experience. It is a journey into another world; a world that is defined by schizophrenia, paranoia, and their interactions with society and themselves.


Will Heller’s life seems defined by the New York subway system. It is an apt metaphor for a predictable, and seemingly unchanging life that runs a parallel course to the burgeoning activity above ground. It is into this world that Will retreats, engages, and finally finds the purpose for his life.


Meaning for Will is obscured by the schizophrenia that has plagued both he and his mother. Other characters are skillfully brought into the pursuit of Will and the paranoia of the chase is what catapults readers through the story.


Schizophrenia is easy to talk about in a clinical manner. However, it takes great skill and a special sensitivity to communicate its nuances so that each of us can identify with the character. Indeed, each of us exhibits some characteristic others might consider strange enough to be labeled as dysfunctional. Wray has the insight and the self-imposed limits needed to develop believable characters who rival those of Ken Kesey’s.


Lowboy also creates a soundtrack of rhythms for the reader. From Will’s father and mother comes the meandering jazz influence. From the subway comes the precision of the door chimes and the clackety-clack of the trains. Will’s quest to cool himself also hints of Bruce Sprinteen’s I’m on Fire:


“And a freight train running through the

Middle of my head

Only you can cool my desire

I’m on fire”


All of the components assembled together in Lowboy make for an interesting read that is worth the risk of knowing more about something that we may not want to know about. It is safe, not to read, or add this to the collection. It is a risk that we may develop insight and empathy into the minute-by-minute struggle of our students and their families. How should the decisions about medication be made? Lowboy is a slice of reality that we all need to taste. It is most appropriate for high school students and those who work with them on a daily basis.


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