I read this little 300+ page book on a 4h flight from Athens and I loved every minute. I’m trying now to figure out why I loved it as when I’m trying to articulate the subject of the book in my mind, it sounds like an absolute mess.
I dreamed I was floating on a sea of breasts. Just coasting from one boob to another, completely free and unhinged from society. It was majestic.
Hear me out.
The story starts in the 1970’s with Carey – a young punk rocker and his friends. The story switches to 2013 and we get to meet Kaitlyn – a stuntwoman who’s trying to make a break in the city of lights. There’s also a third, unidentified, person who talks about how he got shot in the head by an angel.
And here’s the thing – the story starts getting crazier and crazier until you’re either laughing and dancing to the tune or putting the book aside in puzzlement. I decided to go with the merry-go-round approach and I think I got what was going on.
There is an angel – a supernatural being – who thinks that all human beings are faulty and their lives expend unnecessary energy living when the same energy could be used somewhere else – like triggering a volcano explosion that will end up creating a small island where people could live.
The simple reduction of Nadine’s primary core self could shunt her potential energy where it would better serve. Instead of living (pointlessly), Nadine could provide 1.2 terajoules of energy to an active volcano on the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean. Just enough power to tip it over the erupting point, eventually creating 762 square miles of new land. That land would erode in time, but if the goal is survival, the land would last through epochs, while Nadine would last a paltry few years longer on the street.
The untapped energy called “Nadine” could foster the survival of a much larger entity for hundreds of thousands of years. Or she could share her beer with a desperate and confused man beneath an overpass in a thunderstorm.
So, the angel wants to fix these people and correct the wrongness, but in doing so, ends up creating some hollow beings and some “Tar People”. The hollow beings are like vampires – on the look out for more food – spreading like a disease, walking among us without any distinctive features as what made them noticeable was their own humanity. The “Tar People” – as the name suggests – are monsters made of tar who melt whomever they touch and can ignite quite quickly.
“It’s not hard to slip by you. Your perceptions are so small. You’re ants, crawling around at the edge of a picnic table and calling it the edge of the world.”
The Unnoticeables all share the same philosophy – the desire to reduce all human beings to their core functions – like the Angel – but they’re lacking the mechanism to do so:
“You think your lives are important. The lives of others. Life in general. That’s not what it’s about. It’s all about something else. It’s about existence and movement, about maintaining the engine. Your microscopic little lives could be something grand. You could be used to turn the planets. To fuel the sun. You could be the lubricant upon which the gears of the universe churn, and instead you watch TV and get jobs. But that’s at an end now. You don’t have much time left here, in the dark. You’ll learn.”
The story is fast paced and we see Carey trying to handle these beings in the 1970’s and again in the “present” day of 2013 alongside Kaitlyn.
Kaitlyn meets a former teen heartthrob named Marco, who was her childhood celebrity crush back in the day when he was still the star of her favorite family sitcom. But when Kaitlyn finds herself alone with Marco in his car later that night, he turns into an inhuman creature and attacks her. Shaken, Kaitlyn barely escapes with her life, but then finds out that her best friend has gone missing after she was last seen at the same party.
The third point of view is much less defined. Interspersed throughout the novel are brief chapters from the perspective of an unidentified character, speaking about their own transformation. The purpose of these chapters will be unclear at first, but as events unfold this person will start providing a lot more context into what’s happening. Furthermore, as connections between Carey and Kaitlyn’s threads start to form, this mystery person will also help us understand and bridge the gap between the present and the past, showing how everything is related.
There’s a lot to love about The Unnoticeables. At first, it’s easy to mistake this one as quirky urban fantasy, with its portrayal of Carey and his group of burned out vagabond 70s punk pals, not to mention the bizarre, almost true to form picture of present day Hollywood through Kaitlyn’s eyes. The humour is quite dry but it’s welcomed in a book this dark:
They were getting along pretty well, Wash and Thing 2. I say that because I’ve seen all of the signs—the subtle touches of the hand, the lingering smiles, the furtive glances, and the time I walked in on her jacking him off in the bathroom. I’m very observant.
She laughed like a chandelier swaying in the breeze from an open window. God damn it, I’m so horny I’m becoming a poet.
But as the plot moves forward, the narrative ultimately slips into horror territory, becoming progressively darker and grimmer. The novel’s modest page count belies its heavier, more nihilistic themes and it is certainly not all sunshine and unicorns as more and more we are exposed to the increasingly graphic and gruesome violence in both Carey and Kaitlyn’s storylines.
The floors were slick with blood, gore, and other fluids I didn’t want to think about. And though most of the Unnoticeables were too busy tearing each other apart to bother with us, sometimes one would get knocked down, spot us, and come slithering over with murder in its eyes.
I did like though how the Angel was slightly getting corrupted by the minds it inhabits:
My human mind screams. It misses the warmth of the messy, emotional questions that used to plague it. Only when his presence is yanked away from me do I actually understand the purpose that God served for humanity: He was the knife in our soul. We think the blade hurts us, but remove it and there is only emptiness left. We bleed from the holes in our understanding and we shrivel and we die. I did not know that God was with me until he left. Now the wound has opened, and I have never known a colder place than here, in the shadow of his absence. This analogy is faulty. The interface must be abandoned.
But then I flipped that son of a bitch on anyway, and Scooby-Doo was playing. I fucking love Scooby-Doo . That Velma girl—she has it going on. That tight sweater, short skirt, and knee socks? You can’t tell me she got dressed in the dark. Some folks, they got it out for Daphne. But you know to look at her—she’s one of those girls that talks it up all day, but when it comes down to lights-out she just lies there and acts like she’s doing you a favor. Velma? You know she takes off those glasses and she gets to work.
And how the number 6 can destroy in its madness of being a highly powerful being like the Angel:
But I got in, and I got out: I walked through that inferno and came out the other side with a beautiful killer of a concept seared into my head. I came out with the number six. It has to be simple, you see. Anything too complex can be restructured and dismissed. You can’t count on an idea retaining the same value, or even existing at all, after an angel finishes with you. And if you have too much psychic buildup around a concept—memories, explanations, tangents—the angels will burn all of that away and the idea will still be there but hold no importance.
So I made it into something they couldn’t understand. I made it into madness.
I spent twenty years repeating the number six to myself. Twenty years finding it in everything I saw. Counting my steps by sixes and shuffling on the seventh. Every sixth breaths, I inhaled twice. Six beats of the heart, and I blinked. I found multipliers of six everywhere I looked: I broke down addresses, transcribed new alphabets and, most important, I drank myself into oblivion. I ruined every brain cell that single neuron that knew the significance of the six. I burned the number into my soul even as I erased it from my brain. Even now, looking back at all I’ve given up for it, I could not tell you what the number six is supposed to mean, or how in God’s name encoding an affinity for it into the angel I will become will help anybody. I just know that the angels can clear
This is a perfect read for Halloween and if you’re into Demons or Angels, or big cults who like to make human sacrifices, you’ve come to the right place.
I’m really looking forward to more of his writing. The Unnoticeables is a great start to a new series, and I’m very pleased that I got to read this just in time to dive into the sequel, The Empty Ones.
Author Robert Brockway was blown away by the cover:
I’ve had a hard time defining The Unnoticeables. It’s part horror, part urban fantasy, part metaphysical punk rock pulp adventure (that’s a particularly weird part). People ask me to describe it, and I come up short. Now, I can just show them Will’s awesome cover. Everything here has significance. The faces, the brass knuckles, the skull, the gears—nothing is there purely for design purposes. It all has meaning. Even the overall inkblot theme (mild spoiler: that ain’t ink) cleverly ties into the events of the book. Will’s attention to detail goes all the way down to color choices: The Unnoticeables is a bright, garish book—it’s silly and brash and dumb and it does not care if you know it—but it also gets incredibly dark in places. As soon as I saw it, I felt like this cover reached out and punched me in the teeth for looking at it funny. That is exactly what The Unnoticeables is about.