This review may contain minor spoilers.
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.
Poor Jack. Sixteen years old and still a virgin. Then, in one night, he has the opportunity to lose his virginity with the girl he likes, but chickens out; or, he can join his best friend in a threesome with his girlfriend, but he chickens out. Later that night, he is picked-up by a doctor on a park bench and suddenly whether or not he remains a virgin may not be his choice, anymore. Thus begins an incredibly wild ride, wherein Jack and his best friend, Conner, find themselves phasing in and out of two very different worlds. In this world, they are inseparable, sharing a bond of love like that between two brothers. In the other world, the hidden world seen only through the Marbury lens, they are mortal enemies – victims of entirely different circumstances and determined to survive, by any means necessary. As Jack tries to balance between these worlds, he struggles with the fear and pain which were results of that horrible night with the doctor. He meets a girl, tries to love her, but continues to drift away, like a junkie who can’t fight the desire for his next fix. Jack and Conner, bound not just by their friendship but by what they did before their trip to London – what they did before they were introduced to Marbury, must find a way to come together in both worlds, or risk losing everything.
3 – Characters well-developed.
Usually, I am a fan of the characters in Smith’s stories. He pays attention to characterization and character development because most of the stories (Stick and Ghost Medicine, in particular) are about the characters and their experiences. The Marbury Lens, though, seems to be much more about the story and the bizarre worlds within it than it is about characters; because of this, I feel, the characters are lacking a bit. Conner is probably the most likable and well-developed of the bunch. Jack is interesting, but his back-and-forth perpetual decline seems permanently hopeless – if recovery or stability were ever a possibility (even if it turned out to be false hope or misleading), that would have added a great deal to his depth. Jack’s parents are interesting in their absence, but his grandparents, in their presence, are shallowly evaluated. Jack’s girlfriend, too, is rather dull – and their love story is not very believable, particularly considering the short time Jack & Conner spent in London, and how messed up Jack was (although, much of his time spent with the girlfriend is not shown to the reader directly, because he is simultaneously with her in the “real” world, while also with the boys in Marbury). Perhaps the “real world” characters are less developed, though, because the intrigue is meant to be in Marbury. Jack’s compatriots there, Ben and Griffin, are much more interesting, likable, and real than anyone, save Conner, who Jack might now outside of it. Conner, of course, is present in both worlds, though, which might explain why he is the most interesting of them all.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
The story is fast-paced, strange, and disturbing. Its prose matches these elements in various ways. To keep up with the pace (the boys are not in London very long, nor is Jack in Marbury very long, but much has to happen in this time), Smith has constructed the prose into small pieces, like tiny bursts of energy being detonated over and over again. There are some slower moments, such as when Seth is telling his story through Jack, but these are few and far between, and are helpful in keeping the reader from feeling burnt-out or overwhelmed by the rapid-fire sequence of events, particularly the back-and-forth between “real” life and Marbury life. The construction is also linear, but not, which reflects the strangeness of the story. Jack will return from a short visit to Marbury (what seems like a few hours), only to find that days have passed in the real world, and he has no idea where he is or what has happened. Photos, letters, text messages, voicemails and others’ memories will serve to fill-in the gaps for Jack. Ultimately, the pace, style, and construction of the work help to set its tone, which is dark and unrestrained.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
Paranoia. Guilt. Addiction. Self-abuse. Violence. These are the primary themes of The Marbury Lens. At the beginning of the story, we find a classic case of “boy gets drunk and ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He is abducted and nearly raped, two events which will remain with him forever. But the true haunting comes from what happens when he and Conner find Freddie Horvath, the disturbing doctor, and decide to punish him for what he has done. There is an exploration of cruelty to innocents – from Jack’s experience at the beginning, to Seth’s tale (a ghost who shares his story with Jack, and who suffers brutally for a so-called moral mistake he made when he was a boy, in the late-1800s). Of course, Marbury itself is a place of violence and destruction, where all people are hunted down by monsters and brutally murdered and devoured. What is most interesting, perhaps, is what makes it possible for Marbury to exist – what allows certain people to see through the glasses, when others see only blackness. Jack, Seth, Freddie, Henry, and Conner – they all exist in both places. They can all see Marbury, and the can see so because they all share one common, terrible experience.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: HS+
Interest: Violence, Guilt, Paranoia, Addiction, Dystopia, Multiverses, Escapism.
“Mind the gap.”
“What if the world was like one of those Russian nesting dolls? What if we only saw one surface of it, the outside, but there was all kinds of other stuff going on, too? . . . What if you had a chance to see a different layer, like flipping a channel or something? Would you want to look? Even if what you saw looked like hell? Or worse?”
“. . . in Marbury there’s no doubt about the nature of things: good and evil, or guild and innocence, for example. Not like here, where you could be sitting in the park next to a doctor or someone and not have any idea what a sick and dangerous sonofabitch he really is.”
The sequel to The Marbury Lens (Passenger) will be released on October 2nd, and I will definitely be getting a copy!