All This Life
By Joshua Mohr
Joshua Mohr has done a masterful job of merging real life and Internet life in a way that illuminates both. In particular, his treatment of the Internet’s power to both enhance and bring distress and harm into our lives, as well as help resolve problems, sets his novel apart. He manages to avoid the technical hocus-pocus and focus completely on the Internet as another aspect of our modern lives.
The novel begins with a startling event. A hodgepodge band parades across the Golden Gate Bridge, drawing the attention of Jake and his father Paul. As Jake uses his phone to film them, band members pause and each takes a turn mounting the railing, flinging their instruments into the bay, then leaping, some in an attitude of prayer. Jake–who we learn as the novel progresses finds escape and life in the Internet in the form of his avatar, TheGreatJake–films the event from start to finish and posts it to YouTube.
Jake’s posting of the mass suicide garners him a sort of renown and serves as a unifying story element, enabling Mohr to intertwine the lives of a disparate collection of characters.
We meet Sara in Traurig, Nevada, and Rodney, Balloon Boy. Sara discovers to her horror that her boyfriend Nat has posted his film of their lovemaking. Rodney, suffering from aphasia as a result of falling from a homemade weather balloon as a child, and who has always secretly loved Sara, offers her consolation. He enlists her help in finding his mother, Kathleen. In a bad marriage already, she became an alcoholic after the accident and fled home to San Francisco.
We also meet a young, successful trader, Noah, immersed in his craft, who lives with his much younger sister, Tracey, in San Francisco, when he learns that she was among the band members who jumped. Completely devoted to her and psychologically reliant upon her, his life quickly unravels.
Finally, there’s Wes, who takes a room in Kathleen’s apartment, presenting himself as a researcher on the verge of introducing an idea that will change the world forever, which given the setting is San Francisco might on the surface sound plausible, megalomaniacal, yes, but plausible at first.
Events arising in one way or another from the Internet bring them together in the end in more ways than simply showing up on the Golden Gate Bridge at the same time.
While all this might sound painful, be assured that the novel ends on a note of hope that will please most readers. w/c