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Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

by Cory Doctorow

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,1505112,622 (3.53)45
Alan is a middle-aged entrepreneur in contemporary Toronto who has devoted himself to fixing up a house in a bohemian neighborhood. This naturally brings him in contact with the house full of students and layabouts next door, including a young woman who, in a moment of stress, reveals to him that she has wings-wings, moreover, that grow back after each attempt to cut them off. Alan understands. He himself has a secret or two. His father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine, and among his brothers are a set of Russian nesting dolls. Now two of the three nesting dolls, Edward and Frederick, are on his doorstep-well on their way to starvation because their innermost member, George, has vanished. It appears that yet another brother, Davey, whom Alan and his other siblings killed years ago, may have returned ... bent on revenge. Under such circumstances it seems only reasonable for Alan to involve himself with a visionary scheme to blanket Toronto with free wireless Internet connectivity, a conspiracy spearheaded by a brilliant technopunk who builds miracles of hardware from parts scavenged from the city's dumpsters. But Alan's past won't leave him alone-and Davey is only one of the powers gunning for him and all his friends.… (more)

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English (50)  French (1)  All languages (51)
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Hmm, Cory seems to be suffering from diminishing returns. I loved "Down and Out..."; "Eastern Standard Tribe" was pretty good; but this novel kinda blew. I just never got around to caring about either of the two plot threads - the struggle to bring free wi-fi to the citizens of Toronto and the attempt to reconcile flaws of the main character's disfunctionally supernatural family. That said, the writing is good, and Cory excels as usual in his ability to paint cool pictures.
  octoberdad | Dec 16, 2020 |
What a strange and interesting novel! I've never read anying by Doctorow before, but I'd kept hearing how good he was. So when this audiobook became avaialable at my library, I snapped it up. I mean, how can you pass up a blurb about a dude who's father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine, and three of his brothers are Russian nesting dolls...? You cannot.
Well, this book has this weird duality with the two storylines that don't quite work out. I loved the parts about A's childhood and siblings, and their troubles (which is putting it mildly). But the other part about giving everyone free wireless internet was good, and almost as interesting...and yet it didn't seem to mesh well with the other part. But I liked it quirky characters and wanted to know what happened at the big ending scene, so I kept on.
Then the big ending scene happened, and it just kind of.....fell apart, and went no where. Everyone walked away, it was really weird. I'm not even sure what all happened, and I will have to go back and listen to the last chapter again to make sure. What I do know is that the trip to the ending was well worth the read. Very interesting, and very different and singular from anything else I've read.

If the two storylines had been better formulated and meshed together, and if the ending would have coalesced into something solid, and made one feel......this would have been a higher review. But since it didn't have those things, I'm going to have to give this novel 3.5 stars, and recommend it to people who don't mind the fizzle at the end.
By the way, some Bronson Pinchot narrates this audiobook. I have no idea if it's the actor from the 80's sitcom or his weird redecorating show from a few years ago, or not, because this narrator doesn't sound like the actor at all. ( )
  stephanie_M | Apr 30, 2020 |
76 points/100 (4 stars/5)
Genres: urban fantasy, magical (sur)realism

Alan has bought a house and fixed it up for himself to live in. Adam introduces himself to his neighbors. Then one of those neighbors announces she has wings, but that's okay with Allen. His father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine...and his brothers are different, too. Then two of Arthur's brothers show up saying that a third is missing. They believe a fourth brother, who they teamed up to kill themselves years ago, killed the third.

Alan is my spirit animal.

I had an insanely fun time reading this. It starts off weird and then...it just keeps going. I don't typically read super weird stuff. Yet, when I read the line "his father is a mountain; his mother is a washing machine" in the blurb, I knew I had to read this. I'm so, so, SO glad I did.

Because Aaron is my spirit animal.

Andy is weird. He isn't human. He doesn't respond as a normal human would respond. He is unreasonably cheerful for no good reason. Andrew does the weirdest stuff, thinking it is normal, like just inviting himself into other people's houses. You can tell he isn't human, he is just too weird to be human. No one is that cheerful and positive. Yet, Adrian fakes being human really well.

Alan’s father was a mountain, and his mother was a washing machine—he kept a roof over their heads and she kept their clothes clean. His brothers were: a dead man, a trio of nesting dolls, a fortune-teller, and an island.

This little paragraph in one of the first few pages of the book tells you all you need to know about Austin's family and how he grew up. Just how does a washing machine and a mountain raise a cadre of boys? They don't. Who does? Alex. How did he get raised? Well, he had to raise himself.

The thing is, if we look past the surreal, this is perhaps the best I've ever seen a dysfunctional family life being described in urban fantasy. Like so many main characters that I have read before now, when they were growing up the family doesn't function. The difference is, Asher has to raise himself and 6 brothers, one of whom is even more dysfunctional than the family is.

Doug was the one he’d help murder. All the brothers had helped with the murder, even Charlie (Clem, Carlos, Cory), the island, who’d opened a great fissure down his main fault line and closed it up over Doug’s corpse, ensuring that their parents would be none the wiser.

Yes, you read that right. Everyone teamed up to kill one of the brothers and hide it from their parents. This is a book of revenge. In urban fantasy, typically we're on the side. We're trying to get revenge against someone for some wrong. Instead, we're trying to stop someone from getting revenge on you. It is an amazing turn of events.

Yet it isn't without merit. Damien is an unholy terror. He cried for an entire year straight when he was born. Nothing could soothe him. When he grew up, he was constantly hurting people, calling them names. Dallas would say horrible things, threatening to kill everyone. Got kicked out of kindergarten within 15 minutes of his first day. He was broken from the start, and no one could fix him.

Again, once you look past the weirdness of this book, this happens to people. Sometimes, children are born broken. It takes a skilled person to guide them into being a person who doesn't kill, who doesn't torture. Yet, remember: Amir is raising all of his brothers. He is a child himself. Here is where this bends away from reality, because all of his brothers kill Darrell when he gets to be too much for him, and they get away with it for years. And then he comes back for his revenge. Again, in urban fantasy we've seen characters who are broken before, but this is the best, most realistic version I've actually seen of this before.

As the eldest, Alan was the first to recognize the early signs of her pregnancy. The laundry loads of diapers and play clothes he fed into her belly unbalanced more often, and her spin cycle became almost lackadaisical, so the garments had to hang on the line for days before they stiffened and dried completely.
...
The details of her conception were always mysterious to Alan.


To you and me, both, Abraham. The entire scene where the washing machine gives birth is magical. Absolutely magical. His musings on how she got pregnant in the first place just.. perfect. The worldbuilding in this book is as best as I could possibly have hoped for when I knew I had to read this book. There are so many excerpts I wish I could show because it just was perfect to read. I don't want to inundate you with them and spoil the magic of the book. Also, I didn't highlight them all properly.

“Who said anything about money? How much do you think UUNet and PSI charge each other to exchange traffic with one another? Who benefits when UUNet and PSI cross-connect? Is UUNet the beneficiary of PSI’s traffic, or vice versa? Internet access only costs money at the edge—and with a mesh-net, there is no edge anymore. It’s penetration at the center, just like the Devo song.”

Unfortunately, there is that. Weirdly, this book is sort of about creating a homebrew internet service piggybacking off a proper internet service by creating boxes that somehow share the internet? Wooosh, as that all goes over my head. I almost nodded off a few times reading these parts. A strangely large portion of this book is spent on this, and I still am not quite sure why. We actually keep going back to it, which ends up confusing me quite a bit.

It confuses me because the narration kind of breaks down at the end (and if you want to make the joke "Better call the Maytag repairman", you've already been beaten to the punch). The entire book we're popping between scenes in the past and present. This is especially confusing because there aren't actually any chapters in this book... Anyway. In the first half of the book, this was pretty well done, moving back and forth between Alvin's childhood and the present. Halfway through the book, however, I had a really difficult time keeping up. It got increasingly more confusing about where we were in the story, because it started being told out of order. I had to backup a few times to figure out if I just missed something, or if something was skipped.

The most confusing part was the story Anthony was writing. At the start of the book, Antonio said he was going to write a book. It takes him a really long time to get to this book. Yet, when he does get to it, it is threaded within the story. I..don't really understand what happened there. I'm not used to reading stuff with meaning to it, and I just cannot decipher what Doctorow means by that story or by threading it through at the end.

Sidenote: This has been the easiest time I have remembered who was who after having to set the book aside for extended time in ages (I had to sleep). This is hilarious because most of the characters never had a name they stuck to. I found it amusing to see all the names that were used throughout this book for the same person.

You've seen the ones for Allan, the oldest. The second oldest, the fortune teller: Brian, Brandon, Billy, Ben. The island isn't mentioned as much, and one of the quotes above has some for him. Then there is the Deadman: Darien, Daniel, Dylan. My favourites are the nesting dolls. Most of the time they're called in trio, because one cannot exist without the other. Edward-Francis-Gregory, Eric-Fred-George, Ethan-Fabio-Grayson. Even once they were called E-F-G. I loved this naming scheme.

Sidenote #2: Who uses "mons" in a sex scene??

I enjoyed the hell out of this read, and I really do recommend it. This was so delightfully bizarre.

Check this out if:

* you're looking for something truly weird

* a dysfunctional family dynamic that is strangely realistic sounds interesting

* you want to see how a character in a book can become someone's spirit animal

Don't bother if:

* randomness isn't for you

* a story where the timeline jumps repeatedly makes you less interested in the overall story

* technobabble for 13 year old technology (where a 32 MB zip drive is considered anything more than useless) makes you fall asleep

Read more reviews like this at Keikii Eats Books ( )
  keikii | Jan 23, 2020 |
I listened to this one via Doctorow's podcast which included personal updates and the occasional cuckoo clock interruption. I loved the surreal whimsicality of the past life of Allen (Adam, Anton, etc...) but then it became creepy and grotesque. I'm not a fan of the evil character who is just evil because he's evil. There were a few barely disguised lectures about internet and communications issues also. It won't stop me from checking out more of his stuff though. (It's more of a 2 1/2 star rating) ( )
  cindywho | May 27, 2019 |
I didn't really like the fantasy in this book so I decided not to finish it.
  isabelx | Feb 26, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
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Alan sanded the house on Wales Avenue.
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Alan is a middle-aged entrepreneur in contemporary Toronto who has devoted himself to fixing up a house in a bohemian neighborhood. This naturally brings him in contact with the house full of students and layabouts next door, including a young woman who, in a moment of stress, reveals to him that she has wings-wings, moreover, that grow back after each attempt to cut them off. Alan understands. He himself has a secret or two. His father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine, and among his brothers are a set of Russian nesting dolls. Now two of the three nesting dolls, Edward and Frederick, are on his doorstep-well on their way to starvation because their innermost member, George, has vanished. It appears that yet another brother, Davey, whom Alan and his other siblings killed years ago, may have returned ... bent on revenge. Under such circumstances it seems only reasonable for Alan to involve himself with a visionary scheme to blanket Toronto with free wireless Internet connectivity, a conspiracy spearheaded by a brilliant technopunk who builds miracles of hardware from parts scavenged from the city's dumpsters. But Alan's past won't leave him alone-and Davey is only one of the powers gunning for him and all his friends.

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