Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Enjoyment Probability: High

Looking for a complicated and suspenseful thriller but tired of the usual authorial culprits? Or do you usually not read thrillers because you like something a little more thoughtful? Improbable by Adam Fawer just might be the book for you. The plot turns around David Caine, a former math professor who gave it up after he began having epileptic seizures. Drugs didn't control the seizures and after having one in front of a class he became terrified of teaching. Jobless and with a gambling addiction, he starts spending too much time at an underground poker club run by the Russian mafia. He thinks he is about to have the night of his life, he's got a hand that can only be beaten by a Royal straight flush, and well, what are the odds? Caine knows the odds very well, he can calculate probabilities in his head within seconds, an ability that earned him the nickname "Rain Man" in school. Confident that he can't lose, Caine ends up losing. At the moment he loses and realizes that he is in big trouble, he has a seizure that puts him in the hospital. Having tried everything to keep his epilepsy in check, Caine agrees to his doctor's suggestion that he try a new experimental drug. One of the side effects of this drug is schizophrenia and Caine is afraid because his twin brother, Jasper, has schizophrenia. So it isn't a surprise when Caine starts experiencing strange premonitions that he thinks he is becoming schizophrenic. Of course the reader knows otherwise. Caine's isn't the only story. There is a cast of characters, each with his or her own ambitions, whose paths begin to merge with Caine's. Improbable is a smart book. Its plot pulls heavily from probability theory, quantum physics and Jungian psychology. If all thought and matter is made of energy then Jung's collective unconscious can exist and can be accessed. If one can access it, then one can know the past and the present and see all of the possible futures branching off of the present. And with the ability to see all of the present, one can not only "predict" the future, but choose the future. But don't let all of this theory scare you away from the book. Fawer does a great job at explaining it within the context of the story without making the reader feel dumb and without slowing down the story. There are a few spots where it gets to be almost an overload or where I wondered how the heck did that character know that? But over all it is well done. On occasion I found things a little too convenient but if you want to play along and suspend your disbelief, it can all be explained. The ending ties everything up nice and neat which is not unsatisfying just a little too tidy for my preference. But if that's the worst thing about a book, then you can't go too wrong. Improbable is a good reading choice for a rainy or snowy weekend, a long trip, lounging on vacation or when you just want a solid story. The probability of enjoying the book is high. Coming soon: An interview with the author, Adam Fawer!