An unforgettable novel filled with humor. Beautifully written and poignant.
Many thanks to Knopf Doubleday and to Netgalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.
I love a ghostwriter book but something about this threw me off. It was an interesting premise but became tedious and difficult to get through. I didn't finish it but maybe one day I'll try again.
a bit too out-there and theoretical for me. i appreciate how it tries to imbue the psychedelia heavy prose with as much warmth as it can, it's just not something i think i respond to. mayhaps another novel
I had so much trouble getting into the narrative of this book that I finally gave up. The premise— of the many lives we lead in our own lifetime — is interesting enough, but I found the protagonist unlikeable. This book feels overwrought and self-important.
I really, really loved the idea of this book and wanted to love it but I just could not get comfortable with the writing store and it sat on my kindle forever unfinished. I’m sorry. I wanted to love it so much and I’m sure it’s a fantastic book but it just wasn’t for me, despite quite a few attempts to dive on in and get through it. It’s rare that this happens but even one of my absolute favourite authors wrote a book I couldn’t finish (but my friend absolutely loved) so it’s not at all a judgement on plot, it’s just the style didn’t work for me.
This is probably becoming something of a cliché with my book reviewing, but there are certain books that I review and talk about where I come out and say that I’d rather not tell you anything about the book being reviewed in particular — leaving you to go off and discover them on your own with little or no idea as to what they’re all about. It’s not that I’m lazy and can’t envision writing 1,000 words about a certain book (though I’ve had my share of wanting to not write 1,000 words about some books, unsure of how much I have to say about a particular title that isn’t borderline repetitive). Rather, it’s that the book’s plot is usually so original and knotty that you’re better off experiencing it for yourself rather than having a guide give you the CliffsNotes version of it. That’s part of the enjoyment around the strange and beguiling The Red Arrow. This is just one of those books that are better the less you know walking into it. And part of the reason is that it’s so nebulous — I could imagine sitting down with 15 other people for a discussion about this novel and having 15 different explanations of what it’s about come back to me. It’s a novel about drugs, writing, writer’s block, toxic spills, mental illness, and other things — and I’m not sure how much of it is real (particularly when it “quotes” from other sources) and how much of a product of the author’s imagination this all is. As noted, this is a very original book.
However, if you do need something of a guide to give you an indication if this is the book for you, what you might want to know is that this is ultimately a book about writing. It concerns a male ghostwriter, who is unnamed, who is writing a book about a famous physicist who is also unnamed. The physicist is fully cooperating with the publication of the book until, one day, he just vanishes. This is a major problem for our ghostwriter because he’s writing this book to pay off the advances that he spent on a novel that he dithered on for two years before deciding that he just couldn’t write. And this is a particular problem because it could financially hurt not only him but his wife under the laws of the state in which they live — should the publisher of the book that didn’t get written decide to legally come after them. So, part of the book is about the backstory leading up to the moment that the physicist is found. That’s one part of the book. Another part is that this is a book about depression, and our ghostwriter’s attempts to manage suicidal ideation without medication (which didn’t wind up working for him anyway) or through traditional therapy (since one therapist basically indicated that he couldn’t be cured). Can a new treatment that involves illicit drugs (magic mushrooms as we would call it in the small Ontario hometown where I’m from) be the thing that brings our protagonist relief?
As you can tell, The Red Arrow is a very heavy book — and I’m not talking about its physical weight. While it can be a joy to read because it goes into some pretty novel places, it can also detract you from reading it as some of the descriptions about depression are pretty on the nose for anyone who has ever suffered from a depressive episode or two. Thus, The Red Arrow might not be for everyone. However, those who like fiction that takes risks are probably going to go gaga over this title. Especially as it plays with the notion of what is real and what is art — which is another tangent this book goes off on, particularly in its final pages. There’s a lot that can be unspooled from this work — so if you’re up to the challenge, The Red Arrow is going to tick for you. One thing that really works in this novel’s favour is the fact that, even though the main characters are all a little flawed, they are immensely likable for being so human. I particularly liked how the narrator’s girlfriend/wife Annie is handled. She’s tough, yet vulnerable. I enjoyed seeing her whenever she stepped onto the page, so it’s a little disappointing that we never find out what mysterious ailment she’s suffering from in the novel’s latter portion. (I hope I haven’t given something away but, if so, it’s a small piece. And I suppose that, as in life, some things never get fully resolved or explained in a book.)
Conclusively, I’m not sure what to say about The Red Arrow. I enjoyed it, even if I found the ending to be a bit confusing. It’s the sort of thing that won’t be a popular read — right now, on Goodreads, some two months after the book’s publication, only roughly 30 readers or so have bothered to write a review. Will this book become a cult classic? It might, but not without it falling out of print first. Again, it’s going to take a peculiar reader to really find something to enjoy with this book — someone who has read a lot and feels that a lot of what’s out there these days are just rehashes of some old thing. However, if that ideal reader sounds like you, you might find The Red Arrow to be, at the very least, an interesting read. There’s a lot to take in, meaning that this novel might have the scrutiny to stand up to multiple readings — if not a little bit of research to find out what works that are quoted in this book are real and which ones are invented. The Red Arrow, in the end, is a curious read for curious minds. There might not be something here for everyone, but there might be everything for a particular someone — the right person who has the head space to get around whatever this book is trying to say or be in the end.
My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for an advanced copy of this new novel.
Life seldom works out the way we want it, and never the way we planned it. Family, school, jobs, debt, love, sickness, health, pandemics, tangle up the trajectory of our our birth to death. Add self- doubt, self- hate, a little bit of self- harm and the world is just a miserable place, more to be endured than to live. William Brewer writes about this and more in his book The Red Arrow, which follows the flight of a man life's with many stops and starts along the way.
A young failed artist/ writer/ husband/ person rides a train in Italy hoping to reach a shot of redemption in the form of a world famous scientist, called by the narrator the Physicist. The narrator was to ghostwrite the memoirs of the Physicist, getting him out of a deep economic hole, but the Physicist ghosted him and everyone involved, making that economic hole even deeper. Along the ride from Rome to Bologna and back the narrator looks back his life, his failures and the cloud of depression he calls "The Mist".
The book is a tough one. Getting into the book might be difficult for a lot of readers, but for certain readers, ie the ones who can feel what this character is going through, and knowing how hard it is to do anything with your own "The Mist" around you it is going to be a painful familiar work. Brewer has a way of writing about depression and that feeling of failure that is almost too real and too painful. Also the book jumps, like a brain in pain always will. Feeling good now, well five years ago you didn't and here is why. Or an hour from now you won't and here is why. The narrator has all sorts of feelings, and yet can't articulate them, hence the failures of the various books. Like I said some might not like it, but those that understand these feelings, will identify all too well.
When I finished I felt that this was a book about the post -(?) pandemic world. A lot of bad feelings, a lot of not being able to talk, a ton of anger, and not sure of what is real, what is worth it, and a doubt of our own self-worth. I understand this character more than I thought I would at the beginning, and yet I still don't know what to feel about him. This is a different kind of story, not for everyone. However if you like challenging fiction, narratives that change and characters you probably know too well, this is the book for you. William Brewer is an author that I am going to have to look out for, just to see where he might go next.
A fascinating and highly readable—though non-traditional—book. Having said that, I recognize this book may not resonate with all readers.
"Frecciarossa', the red arrow, is a series of fast long-distance trains that travel up and down Italy. On one of these trains, going from Rome to Bologna and back, travels a young failed writer, who has been a failed painter and risked being a failed husband, whom depression has brought to the brink of suicide several times. During this journey, which must lead him to track down the mysterious physicist he is ghost-writing to pay his debts, the writer, now cured of his depression with the help of an experimental psychoactive drug treatment, weaves a web between past and present, talking about the profound nature of time and how it affects people's relationships, about life, death, depression and love.
A very strange, yet profound book, certainly difficult to appreciate in a single reading.
An absolute pleasure to read this truly original, inventive, and heart-wrenching novel utterly Brewer's own that's both curious about time and its possibilities and limitations, but also extraordinarily relevant to our contemporary moment. I loved the stylish and really moving journey
Brewer manages to one-up Proust in the best possible way by folding the notion of memory and time into something that requires a new awareness, The section in Taormina is gorgeous writing. There are shades of Hemingway but with his own style. And I the writing about The Big Spill is a virtuoso moment in this groundbreaking book.
It beaks that new ground in a lot of ways - formally (those arrows which are transfixing), syntactically, and lyrically. I can see the syntax DNA matching the emotional intensity in passages that feel like so much is at stake but that also never let go of vulnerability
The book also has a playfulness with conventions that is never mere cynicism or cliche irony. It’s always discovering itself - like that discovery of Nowness at the heart of the time meditation.
The Red Arrow
I’d like to thank NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review The Red Arrow. The premise was interesting but it was a slower read for me than usual. I felt bogged down with the main character’s issues: debt, depression, life issues etc. and was challenged to really connect as I often do in many other novels. All in all I’d have to rate this book as 2.5 stars.
The narrator is a former painter who found fame in writing a well received short story collection. When he promises to write the Great American Novel , he finds that he cannot write it due to his self doubt, which he also struggled with as a painter. He spends the large advance and finds himself in debt to his publisher and is given the task of ghost writing for a famous physicist to pay said debt off. The physicist then vanishes, leading the narrator to go in search of him.
Overall the novel is an enjoyable read, sometimes funny ( in the descriptions of his fellow train passengers) sometimes sad and foe me too relatable ( his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts). I just felt the ending was a little too abrupt.
This was an unexpected hit for me. From the moment I started it, I couldn't put it down. It's crazy to think it's still a few months from publishing! I want everyone I know to read it. It's a wild ride of finding peace and hope in the most unexpected places. Also, who doesn't love Italy?! Highly recommend.
The narrator is a painter/author/ghostwriter who suffers from severe depression. He believes that “The Mist” is there to keep him from ever being truly happy or successful.
He failed as a painter, but then put together a fine collection of short stories. This leads to a large contract for a new book, with a significant advance ... which he spends. And then the book never materializes. His last chance is to ghostwrite a memoir for The Physicist, whom he has never met but who specifically required him to be the writer.
The narrator barely holds on, with the help of his soulmate Annie, until he can be given a treatment involving psilocybin mushrooms, which is what ultimately provides the key to understanding for both the narrator and the reader.
As he moves across the Italian countryside in The Red Arrow, his entire story unfolds, from growing up in the shadow of the Monongahela River oil spill to his Brooklyn studio to Silicon Valley and then, finally, to his meeting with The Physicist.
This is a marvelous story, told well, with a view of time not unlike Billy Pilgrim’s.
When a once-promising young writer agrees to ghostwrite a famous physicist’s memoir, his life is already starting to crack, weighed down by debt, marital issues, and depression he exaggerates his abilities knowing that every portion of the memoir he writes repairs his own life a little bit more. So what happens when partway through the project,: the physicist vanishes, leaving him with only a fraction of the information he needs to finish the job?
With everything, including his sanity is in jeopardy, he undergoes an experimental, psychedelic treatment and finds his world completely transformed.. With incredible imagination and expertly formed sequences, Brewer paints a bold and beautiful picture of a person on the edge, zig-zagging through art, memory, and the ways our lives intertwine and align within the riddles of space and time, and. exploring the depth of the human spirit.
The Red Arrow is in a category all its own and is easily the best mind-bending, compulsively readable story to hit shelves in a long time.
A big thank you to negalley and publishers for providing an advanced e-copy for me to read and give my honest opinions on the experience that is The Red Arrow.
I have added categories and a self-harm CW to this title in Storygraph. I will submit this review on Amazon:
(Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of this novel in return for a review.) This book follows an artist/writer as he battles debt, depression, and creation under capitalistic oppression. I coincidentally was reading quantum physicist Carlo Rovelli's The Order of Time when I picked up this book. Rovelli's discussions about time, Michael Pollan's How to Change Your Mind, and quotes from countless writers and artists are weaved throughout this narrative. It took a quarter of the book for me to get into it. The author writes these spectacularly intimate moments of insight between the characters. The fragmentation of memory and the looseness of reality is so like how we absorb information (really poignant during the pandemic) and then the main character's inability to write about it as the author writes about is a nice fold.
This was my first book to read by this author but I cannot wait to read more! The characters stay with you long after you finish the book. Such a great story and fast read. Highly recommend!!!
Notes: Typo on page 43 “She even had a little a foundry area.” - 43
Review to be posted on Goodreads: I received a copy of this book thanks to the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and am grateful for the opportunity. The Red Arrow is a novel about a young author trying to dig himself out of debt. A once promising new writer, who accidently stumbled into the career, over-promised his abilities and now must ghostwrite a memoir for the mysterious Physicist to pay off his debts. The novel begins on his honeymoon, when he is on his way to visit the physicist. The novel manages to span simply the train ride, and also the entire lifetime of the main character without feeling cluttered. This book manages to be one of the most accurate depictions of depression and the holes one digs themselves into when suffering from depression that I have ever read. With an unreliable narrator who admits he himself cannot distinguish his own memories from those of The Physicist; the novel weaves together the two men so thoroughly once they finally come together it all fits. The mysterious treatment looming on every page is of course not a mystery at all, it wonderfully ties back to the beginning. The treatment not only ties back to the beginning, but into the Physicist's tale as well, further blending the two individuals into one mass of memory. This book was a story of love, therapy, learning, and growing artfully told through the lens of the main character that I will come to revisit frequently, and it will feel like a memory.