From the Jacket:
Gabriel Schist is spending his remaining years at Bright New Day, a nursing home. He once won the Nobel Prize for inventing a vaccine for AIDS. But now, he has Alzheimer’s, and his mind is slowly slipping away.
When one of the residents comes down with a horrific virus, Gabriel realizes that he is the only one who can find a cure. Encouraged by Victor, an odd stranger, he convinces the administrator to allow him to study the virus. Soon, reality begins to shift, and Gabriel’s hallucinations interfere with his work.
As the death count mounts, Gabriel is in a race against the clock and his own mind. Can he find a cure before his brain deteriorates past the point of no return?
From the very first page, Pale Highway sucked me in and held me captivated, completely glued to my Kindle. My favorite kind of writing happens when an author has the ability to create a world that I can fall right into. The world Conley writes in is ours, yet I felt my surroundings slip away as I fully immersed myself in his creation. His characters, each and every one of them, are sturdy enough to walk right off the page. It’s been a few weeks since I finished this, and I still find myself thinking about it. You’ll need to be ready to suspend your imagination for portions of it, and I say this only because of how jarring those parts are. Tucked in between a sea of pragmatic prose, are out of this world characters that are completely surprising and so so odd.
As always, I’m going to get into more detail after the jump. Continue on at your own discretion, but this one is free of any major spoilers.
I was delighted when the author reached out to me and asked if I would review his book on my blog. Scifi is one of my favorite genres, and this one sounded very interesting, so I quickly agreed. It took me a couple of weeks to get started, as I was in the middle of other reads at the time, but once I did, I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN.
The book is written in a flashback narrative that jumps between the protagonist’s current life in the long term care facility, Bright New Day, and his younger days leading up to his discovery of a cure for AIDs. The details are heartbreakingly realistic and touch on many issues and themes, including, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, elderly care, self discovery, self medication, creationism, humanity, death and dying, divorce, and parenthood. Conley writes about each with the insight and expertise of someone who could only have lived through or experienced them personally.
Schist is a brilliant scientist, smarter than everyone around him. He’s never really fit in, and his whole life he has compensated by self medicating with copious amounts of alcohol. Now, he’s living out his days in a long term care facility, while his brain succumbs to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. He’s struggling to feel any sense of purpose at all, when other residents of Bright New Day start to fall extremely ill with a mysterious and terrifying illness. With the help of some very strange new friends, Schist realizes that the fate of the world is in his hands. Will he be able to discover a new cure? And should he, when it seems as if his life’s work may be what caused all of this in the first place?
I do not want to get into too much detail because I was glad to get to read it knowing almost nothing. I didn’t review this one immediately, as life got in the way. But in the interim, I’ve been trying to think of all I could say about it. I tried on more than one occasion to compare this to other things I’ve read. After many failed attempts I realized that I would not be successful, because this book is not like anything I’ve ever read before. Conley’s voice is completely unique.
I do want to touch on why this book lost a star for me. The writing is so realistic and so believable, that when the weird stuff starts happening, it’s almost too strange. I was pulled out of the story a few times, because the juxtaposition between the grim realities of life in a nursing home and bizarre other worldly beings was too much for my brain to handle.
Final Thoughts: I absolutely loved this book. It is the most unique of any I’ve read in the scifi/fantasy genre, mostly because of how realistic the majority of the book was. If you love a good character study, this is definitely for you. Read this one anywhere, it won’t matter, because you’ll forget that you’re anywhere but in the world that Conley has created. This was a debut for Conley, and I can’t wait to read what he comes up with next. You can read more about the author here.
Favorite Characters: Gabriel, Edna
Memorable Quotes: This is a first for me, and it may be partially because I read this on a kindle vs a hard copy, but I do not have any quotes to share. I was pulled along so quickly by the writing, that I didn’t even think to take a moment to highlight passages to share later. If you’ve read this, please share some of your favorites in the comments!