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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Half World: A Novel

"Haunting and inspired by real-life events" is like me saying, "You had me at hello." This is Scott O'Connor's Half World

In the 1950's and 1960's, the government ran a secret program (MKULTRA) focused on mind control of unwitting Americans. This novel follows Henry March, a man so deeply committed to his country that he will stop at no bounds following orders. He moves his family across the country, emotionally distances himself from them, and embarks on a journey that will destroy him mentally. Almost twenty years later, his daughter is still desperate to find out what happened to him. When she is approached by a raggedy stranger who claims he can help her, she has no choice but to believe him and allow him to take her on the voyage she was destined to make.

I was sold on the premise, skeptical at first, and then found myself so fascinated by the story, the characters, and the writing that I found it difficult not to race through this novel to avoid putting it down. Sometimes I am so floored by the lengths to which our government has gone to stay ahead--but I am never so surprised. To be sure, this book is a work of fiction based off of O'Connor's thoughts as to what would happen to the men who ran the experiment, not just those who were oblivious participants. That doesn't change, however, the emotional impact of O'Connor's exploration.

O'Connor spent a great deal of time in Henry's head, allowing me as the reader to really get to know him. I felt his care and his apathy, his distancing and his unquestioned obedience. He is a man of his generation and a man of his training; he is a man who has devoted his life to his country and he will go where he is told and he will do what is asked of him. It is almost painfully shocking how deep his love is for his country--it seems, at times, that it is even deeper than the love for his family. He was an absolutely fascinating man, and I venture to say that I loved the character even more than I loved the story. It's hard, though, to separate the man from the story.

A major plot point is the family Henry left behind without warning. He walked away from it all--and why? Was the work that horrible? (I will tell you that from Henry's final straw--yes, it really was.) What is it all for, in the end? Ultimately Henry leaves behind family with more questions than answers--questions that may never see the answers they seek. It is heartbreaking yet incredibly fascinating. A family falls apart because of choices they all make--some greater and more loaded than others.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

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