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Man in the empty suit by Sean Ferrell
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Man in the empty suit (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Sean Ferrell

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1511679,164 (3.09)6
Member:bitter_suite
Title:Man in the empty suit
Authors:Sean Ferrell
Info:New York : Soho Press, 2013.
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:science fiction, time travel

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Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell (2013)

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The Man in the Empty Suit is book that is so extraordinary that I am having trouble finding the right words to describe it. I was blown away by this book. Cool and awesome just don't cover it, and amazing doesn't either. Unique is clearly part of it, but doesn't do it either, imaginative is part, but not all. You know, I could string adjectives here for days and not really put together how I feel about this book. Reading was a truly unique experience for me. It was a new type of book – a type of book one hasn't read yet, you know, if you have read The City in the City by China Mieville, you understand what I mean; a novel experience that one has never encountered before in their lifetime of reading. This book gave that to me. To say that it was awesome, demeans that experience – degrades it beyond what it was. So, here I go with the adjectives, - it was fabulous, incredible, simply amazing, unique, it rocked, I loved it, I cried at the end, it was incredibly satisfying, I didn't want it to end, I loved the main character – all of him (and there are many, you will understand later about that), I simply adored this book. I adored everything about this book – the plot, the overarching theme, the pacing, the characterization, the imagery, the ending was awesome, the dialogue. Everything!

Everything about this novel was perfect. I couldn't find a flaw – but then, I didn't want to. I was having too much fun solving mysteries with the main character in his different selves. How I loved, going through the different clues as he went from one year to the next; changing identities. This is a book to be treasured; a book to be bought in a first edition and first printing, and put on that special shelf, up with those other special books, one keeps and reads over and over again. You could give this one out to friends as a gift – as it teaches life lessons in a refreshing and honest fashion. It also has my favorite writing style favored by Hecht, Ross, and Dahlquist – Yes! The cadence. It is here in every sentence, which means that reading this book out loud would enhance the experience for everyone concerned. His wordplay is so good that the sounds and syllables spring from the sentences quite amiably as he pops each sound out to produce the meter that he needs to bring that ring of cadence to each word while at the same time mining meaning so deep that it is impossible to not feel it in your bones. Did I say that I loved this book?

THE PLOT: The year is 2071, in subjective time. In fact there are two types of time: subjective and objective – because our boy, the main character, has learned how to time travel. In the whole book, you never know what his name is, he refers to himself at different ages by labels: Screwdriver, Seventy, The BarBrats, The Drunk, The Suit, Sober, Yellow, The Inventor, The Nose, The Youngsters, The Elders and The Pilaf Brothers. Each year, they all get together for their 100th respective birthday. Each of himself, from that respective year, goes to a hotel in Manhattan, and they take it over in 2071. Most of Manhattan is deserted. They all meet up and throw a big party, with catered food, lots of alcohol, and films of their time travels. They even play old records and dance. The Elders know what happens at each party because they have already lived through them before, while the Youngsters just get sloppy drunk and have a good time. When we join the novel, it is the year for our protagonist to be The Suit and he is 39 years old. It is the year that he is well dressed, and dapper. He has been waiting for this year for literally years while he has been a youngster. He makes a grand entrance, looks totally in control, and he couldn't wait to grow up to be The Suit. Now, the time is here. He has rules that he lives by, things like never know the future, never go above the third floor of the hotel, only come to the party when it is your birthday – never earlier, or later. These rules are all listed in the front of the book, I believe there are about fifteen of them. They live by these rules, and yet, he meets himself out in front of the hotel, and the self that he meets is only six months older than himself. Why is he breaking his own rules? His other self, which he nicknames Sober, tells him to follow himself to the penthouse, which, of course, breaks another rule, but he does so, out of curiosity, because, Sober says, he has something to show him up there. So, he follows himself all the way up, in the elevator. The penthouse, is actually in pretty good shape. The reason for the rule, The Suit thought, was that the hotel was deteriorating, and was not safe at the higher levels. This was obviously not true. Sober then tells The Suit, that he will be back in just a few minutes, and disappears. The Suit hears the alarm on the exit door to the stairs, as well as the elevator start. He also hears something malfunction with the elevator. He begins to worry – something is obviously wrong. When he gets down from the thirty fourth floor - he finds that Sober is dead in the elevator – he has been shot through the head. The Elders tell him that he has one year to find out what happens or he will be dead next year. What he doesn't tell them is that is him, six months from now. Who killed Sober? One of him did. Why would he do it? It didn't make sense that he would kill himself in an elevator. Later on in the book, there are more guns, chases through the hotel, parrots that parrot phrases, a beautiful femme fatale, the scar is true, more blood on his hands, gathering guns, additional mysteries, messages on the wall, travel back in time, a film of himself, telling himself things about himself, untethering, the rules go out the window, the inventor gets an earful, The Drunk is not drunk, a memory squid, playing Phil's princess, the parrot faces west, she likes the new you better, Seventy has the whole thing planned, next year's birthday party, meeting yourself with parrots, true freedom to be untethered and so much more. What will The Suit do? He has to investigate the murder of Sober or he won't live six months. How do the Elders still live, if Sober is dead? Why aren't they dead too? These mysteries and more The Suit must unravel, as he grows up and becomes someone else next year. Who will he be? The Nose? The Drunk? Screwdriver? You never can tell. The plot was so corkscrewed, you didn't know until the very last second of the book, what was going to happen. There were a lot of surprises. He ended up surprising himself quite often. For plot, I give this novel a 10/10. It was tightly executed, wonderfully twisted, and the ending was magnificent.

THE CHARACTERIZATION: There were very few people in the novel, but a lot of the protagonist, himself. He was represented from the age of six through the age of at least seventy. That is sixty four people who all have slightly differing personalities for each year that they are alive. Mr. Ferrell did an amazing job altering each protagonist's personality to fit him. From childhood through old age we get to see one man represented year by year. He may be running around like a child, or tapping his cane to the music, but there were definitely traits that were consistent between the differing protagonists. They were all selfish, The Inventor of the time machine, the eighteen year old boy, who made everything possible, was a very unhappy and conflicted personality, this really did not change much over the years, the protagonist had problems with self loathing and self esteem. It was clear from the outset that this was true for most of the protagonists that we meet in detail. Ferrell's characterization of not only the protagonist, but Phil, a character who lived close to the hotel, and bought actors to play his family, who had disappeared, yet was weighed down with grief over his familial loss. One of the actors that played his daughter Sara, comes to the hotel on the night of the birthday party. She is the femme fatale. Her name is Lilly. Her characterization was brilliant. She was like a social sponge – waiting for someone other than her to give her a name and a role to play so that she could be a caretaker. Later, she wanted to reverse roles and be taken care of, but still wanted her role to be defined by an outside source. It was a brilliant characterization. The other family members Mana and Joshua play the Mother and the Son respectively. Their characterization is wonderful, as Mana is a classical, money grubbing actress, that just wants to take advantage of a crazy old man who is struck down by grief, but who has money, and Joshua, is rebellious, but starving, so he needs the money as well, but finds it hard to play the role that he should play in real life. He becomes argumentative, sending Phil into states of depression and crying jags that make Phil order his acting family to go home . Phil is supposed to be his real Father. Joshua's attitude toward him is rather sad, as his Father really needs him and could use the love and support badly. Joshua could use the love and support as well from Phil, but won't allow himself that luxury, as he believes that he needs no one. It is his age combined with the fact that Phil is broken, I believe that makes him feel this way. Ferrell does a wonderful job of characterization in Joshua and Mana, two ancillary characters that have little to do with the main plot, but are a side story in itself. For Characterization, I give this novel, a 10/10.


THE IMAGERY: Along with the cadence and the wordsmithing, Ferrell has gotten the imagery down to a science. He has a wonderful way of describing the surrounding environment and people within it in ways that you can see it fantastically well. The old hotel where they have the birthday party each year as well as the abandoned building across the street where Phil lives and other places in New York City which are described all come to life at the hands of Mr. Ferrell as he takes the different lives of his protagonist across the city to find out what happened to Sober and to make sure that he gets what he wants at the next birthday party. It is amazing how, with the wordsmithing, he can bring things to life. As an example - when he was describing Grand Central Station; they were painting over the ceiling, as they believed that the beautiful painting of the zodiac that had been there for so many years was incorrect – so they decided to paint over it and do it again correctly. They started by painting it black. Many people were on scaffolding with paint brushes in their hands, painting the ceiling black – covering that wonderful artwork, while others brought in cartloads of books and sorted them. Underneath the painters was the four-faced clock that is so familiar to everyone. The time on each face had been set separately. It seemed that it actually matched two different watches that our protagonist kept. He wondered if he set it himself in a different life. He became one of the book haulers and sorters- Hauling the books into Grand Central, underneath the scaffolding of the painters, to the sorting area. He would set each book in an empty place, When he was done, he would go back for more books with the smell of paint in his nose. While I can't even come close to the brilliance of Ferrell, his imagery of Grand Central Station will stay with me long past the reading date of the book. The imagery of the book is something that I will think about over and over again, as it was completely immersive and cinematic. You could see the scenes in your head as you read the book. Yes, he is that good. For imagery, I give this novel a 10/10.

THE GORE SCORE: While this novel did have a number of murders in it, a number of broken noses, a number of hematomas, people did fall down, get hit in the head with revolvers, and other random violence, there was no gratuitous violence, there was no reveling in gore. It was actually very clean. From a violence stand point, is was actually quite mild. I give it a Gore Score of 3/10.

THE DIALOGUE: Mainly the protagonist was talking himself at differing ages, so Ferrell had to tweak the dialogue to reflect the protagonist's speech to reflect that age. This he did so very well, that is was actually quite funny at times. There is quite a bit of humor in the book, provided by the Youngsters who tell jokes, do prat falls and such, and crack each other up with stupid dialogue. It reflects their age. The Bar Brats are a classic example of that. Three of himself in their early twenties who tended bar at this birthday and were rather drunk – they would parrot other people's speech but changing very slightly, making into something they thought was funny. In the case of The Suit, who said, “Bar spill”, which they changed to “Bar spiel”, and laughed uproariously, repeating it over and over again, just as early, drunk twenty, somethings do. The Suit, who, was 39 years old, found this stupid, and shook his head at them, dismissing the stupid joke. Ferrell, did an outstanding job with the dialogue – representing not only the protagonist at the sixty four ages in his life, but also all the other characters in the novel, who clearly spoke uniquely and represented individuals that could be picked out by their speech patterns. For Dialogue, I give this novel a 10/10.

THE PACING: Do you remember when you were a small child and your mother was in a hurry, she would take your hand and start to drag you through wherever you were, at whatever top speed that your little legs could run. She couldn't physically drag you, because that would look bad, but it was close. I remember a few times like that. Well this novel is like that – it takes you by the hand and pulls and doesn't let you go until the very last word on the last page – and only then does it let go. At that point, you are okay with being let go. You don't want to be let go during the journey that you are on, when you are reading the book. I read it in a single sitting. I had to. I couldn't stop reading. I missed making dinner. It is too good to stop. Very few books are like that. This one is. There are no slow spots. No dragging. No places where it speeds up. The pacing is so consistently fast, as it pulls you along at high speed, it is almost mechanical, in its well-executed fashion. For Pacing, I give the novel a 10/10.

THE ENDING: All I can say is Magnificent! I never guessed. How could I? What an ending! Mr. Ferrell you blew me away with this ending. Yes, I did cry at the end, but it was amazing. How satisfying! How wondrous! How completely fabulous was that ending? I can tell you, it was the best. I'm still smiling over the ending now, while writing this review. Mr. Ferrell, you are a genius at endings. Thank you for ending your book as you did. Not a cliffhanger, not a series, just a wondrous ending that satisfied my senses and made my heart sing. It made me happy to read your book. I just can't say that about many books, but yours did. Thank you. For the Ending, I give this novel a 10/10.

THE UPSHOT: Well, I've got to say, that before I read this work, I didn't believe that I'd ever encounter a perfect novel in my life. I just didn't think they existed. There would always be flaws, always be defects in novels. That's just the way things go. Nobody is perfect either. No book is perfect – until I read The Man in the Empty Suit, which made a liar out of me. Now look what I have gone and done. I have given the novel a perfect review. I realized the book resonated so deeply with me, so strongly within me that I actually loved this work. There are few novels in this category. I do have a special shelf with first edition, first printings signed by the authors of works that are in this category. The shelf is small. There are few works that belong there. Some you will recognize, like Dante's Inferno – which is not signed, of course, and I do not have a first edition, but my copy is very old. It is leather bound and hand lettered, and it is the first edition that was translated into English. This book is going up on that shelf, right next to Dante, and the others that I love the most. I did not want to nit pick this novel, as it was so magnificent a work that it deserves the best review that anyone can give it. BRAVO! Sean Ferrell You have accomplished something meaningful – a novel that is wondrous, beautifully written as well as being a page-turner. Your characters are fully three dimensional, individual, human and amazingly flawed, but also loveable. This book is a gem, and should be on the shelf of every human being who can read English as a first or second language. I recommend it to EVERYONE. If you like mysteries, if you like adventure, if you like science fiction, if you like people, if you like happy endings, you will LOVE this NOVEL. The score for this novel is 60/60. A first for me. I will probably never again, give this score to any other book, but as they say, never say never. Thank you Sean Ferrell. I enjoyed your book immensely. Please write more. This book will be published on February 05, 2013. ( )
  Molecular | Feb 21, 2014 |
Quite a unique idea! A man travelling in time has a convention each year with all of his various ages. This year is different as one of him ends up dead. He becomes both detective and plotter to change events. I never became attached to any of the characters, but was intrigued by the plot. Fast paced and thought provoking. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
I really wanted to love this book, but I didn't. It had ingredients that I normally delight in: time travel, mind-bending paradox, creepy/weird semi-abandoned future city. What a cool premise: a man invents a time travel vehicle, and leaps forward a century to throw a party for himself. Every year, he goes to the party, so the place is packed with versions of him of all different ages. But what happens when he kills his next year's self? How can he stop the chain of events from unfolding again? And can he influence his other-aged selves to change their courses of action without impacting his own existence?

Cool stuff, as far as I'm concerned, but I thought this book suffered from uneven pacing. The story seemed to pause for details that didn't go anywhere, characters who were interesting but so mysterious as to be beyond emotional reach, and storytelling convoluted enough that I stopped trying to keep track of the character's many iterations and their motivations and alliances. By the time I was three quarters of the way through the book, I had mostly lost interest and just wanted to get to the end. I was hoping for something at the conclusion to make me utter a Keanu-like "woah," but that never materialized. It all ended in a shrug for me. Man in the Empty Suit has its moments, but it didn't add up to something I can really recommend. ( )
  ksimon | Feb 6, 2014 |
Interesting spin on time travel, the time travelling protagonist has to solve/prevent his own murder. This adds a new twist to the genre. An interesting read, but not a keeper. I will not reread this one, and am passing it on. ( )
  Vagabondbookman | Oct 13, 2013 |
See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

Time travel can be messy business. Especially if you celebrate your birthday every year with your former and future selves in an abandoned hotel, watching your younger selves get unashamedly drunk, whilst your older selves shake their heads in pity at how stupid and reckless you used to be. But this is where we find our unnamed protagonist, on the eve of his 39th birthday, preparing eagerly for his party as this year he gets to be ‘The Suit’.

However, his night is ruined when he discovers ‘The Body’: himself at age 40, dead. It turns out the Elder versions of him have been hiding this conspiracy from the youths, and it’s up to The Suit to determine what exactly happened, and how to stop it. Only 41, The Drunk, knows how to escape this fate, but he’s in no state to help. Things become even more complicated when an outsider, Lily, arrives at the party for the first time ever. Can she help, or is she just at risk? Can The Suit save himself?

This was an interesting concept that sadly didn’t work out for me.

Firstly, there is a huge problem with the time travel element of the book. Basically, you can either have the ‘time is linear’ theory (everything that happened happened, you can’t change history), or the multiverse theory (travel to another universe where you can change things because it’s not actually your time line). To make a time travel novel successful you have to pick one theory and stick to it, especially if this is the centre fold of your entire premise. Man in the Empty Suit, however, doesn’t do this. It starts with a linear idea of time, then suddenly revels that it can be changed, even in a small way. Since there is no mention of other universes, we must just assume that the author doesn’t understand these rules.

Now, the other issues I had was with the characters and the pacing.

I found both the nameless main character and the mysterious woman Lily to be fairly unlikable. You never really connect with either, despite being inside his head. All I can tell you is he’s arrogant, self-loathing, and an alcoholic. Even when surrounded by his other selves, the main character can only pity the Youngsters and resent the Elders, all whilst seeing his current self as better. Perhaps this is a comment by the author about how our perceives change over time, and how we view ourselves, always comparing how we used to be to what we are now, and what we’d like to become. But it seemed that the protagonist never learns from his this, only ever seeing his current state as been right.

As for Lily, even after hearing her story I found it hard to care. She felt a little tacked-on, more of a plot device to give The Suit a motive and a romantic interest, and so she fell a bit flat to me.

I also disliked the pacing and sudden change from the party to six months before hand. I felt like the story would have worked better if had been isolated to the party. It would have given a tighter time constraint, causing more tension and interest.

A couple of other questions; what happened to the world in 2071? What did the time machine/raft actually look like and how did it work? What made him build one in the first place? Why come back to a rundown hotel in 2071, of all the points in history?

2.5 stars for the original and intriguing idea. ( )
  Great_East_Road | Sep 25, 2013 |
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It is unfortunate for me that I am, by most any objective measure, a genius.
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Wearying of endless visits to the myriad points of human history, a time traveler attends his own one-hundredth birthday celebration every year with other versions of himself and encounters in his thirty-ninth year his murdered forty-year-old body, a situation that compels him to prevent his own death.… (more)

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