R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 4/10
This is a tough one for me. There is enough of a solid concept and quirky humor in the book to make me enjoy it, but there was also more than enough repetitiveness and odd writing choices throughout to make me lose interest for brief lapses. When you’ve got running commentary on the dislike for poorly-spelled text messages, varying masturbation slang, constant mention of the “Three S’s”, the judgmental cat, the nightly doses of sleeping pills, as well as the mention of what song comes on first thing in the morning, it really adds up after a while. Enough to make the reader question just how much material is really in the 270+ pages.
I enjoyed the chapter layout immensely. Too often when the events in a novel take place over a period of time, it’s frustrating as a reader when you don’t immediately know how much time has passed from chapter to chapter. In Gripped, each chapter is one day in a long span of consecutive days. Absolutely no confusion there. I found myself loving the main character (Marky) at the beginning of the book. His exploits at his menial office-type job are painful in a very entertaining way. You even want to root for the poor bastard.
What I found odd was that Marky seemed like a different character once he’d begun his relationship with Emily. It was too drastic a shift from the downtrodden, can’t-get-anything-right office schmuck to the upbeat, positive, full-of-hope-and-love boyfriend. But maybe that’s intentional? Perhaps it’s a commentary on how we change when we’re in new relationships? There is some “future glimpsing” from Marky’s standpoint at the beginning; when he first meets Emily he states how she will eventually “ruin everything.” He notes, “I’m about to meet a mistake.” However there is no such foresight into the nature of The Program itself (or at the very least, the more horrific aspects of it), which I found contradictory and confusing.
In the end, my best guess is that this is a story about a guy who sucks at life, is threatened by a subversive organization to turn things around – which he does, playing by their rules no less – and then realizes that he’s happy and fulfilled in the end. Is there a life lesson here? Is this what satire is? Am I supposed to feel like I’ve just been the victim of social media propaganda? I’m really not sure, but maybe that’s the whole point of it all.
Donnelly is a terrific writer, a young writer who embraces the use of technology in his work. He is superb at writing the “blossoming relationship” side of characters and I would not hesitate to read further works of his that tread into this realm. As it stands though, Gripped is a fairly weak debut that would be hard to recommend.