Monday, June 4, 2012

The Remortal by Ramsey Isler

Title: The Remortal
Author: Ramsey Isler
Rating: 4 stars

The Plot
Telly is just getting by on the streets of Los Angeles when he meets a man named Van who has in intriguing proposition for him. Van claims to be immortal, and he says that he will transfer his immortality – and all his worldly wealth – onto Telly… if Telly can pass all his tests.

The Good

I actually enjoyed The Remortal a great deal more than I thought I would. I confess that sometimes when I pick up a novel that I have agreed to review, I don’t expect very much. And a book about a male protagonist who lives on the street is exactly the kind of gritty “boy” book that I usually have to force myself to read. But in this case, I am glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

The basic concept surrounding the novel is that there are four immortal beings on the planet. At any point during an immortal’s life, he or she may choose a successor. The immortal’s power then transfers to the successor over the course of approximately 50 days until finally the successor kills the immortal. At that point, the former immortal ascends to a more powerful position in the universe, and the successor becomes the new immortal.

We see this world from the point of view of Telly, who may have the same name as a Muppet from Sesame Street but is actually a teen runaway living on the street of Los Angeles. An immortal named Van chooses Telly as his successor and puts him through the kinds of tests that determine whether Telly is worthy of being an immortal. As the novel progresses, Telly learns how the other immortals have differing perspectives on what immortality entails, and he must decide what he believes. The entire story ends up being a fascinating exploration of what makes someone worthy of true power.

The Bad

There are three parallel subplots going on through the novel that don’t really merge as well as they could. First there is the plot of Van training Telly to be his successor. Then we have the plot of the other immortals trying to prevent Van’s ascension. And finally there is a plot where Telly is trying to help his friend Mattie get off the streets. These different story arcs help present the different viewpoints of the story – Van’s, the other immortals’, and Telly’s, respectively – but I don’t feel like I get any kind of resolution of what the “right” thing is supposed to be.

I think part of the problem is that we get most of the story from Telly’s relatively naïve viewpoint. Throughout the book, he is presented with a variety of different opinions regarding the best way to be an immortal, but he doesn’t have the philosophical mindset necessary to really consider all of them. For the most part, he reacts to what is going on around him and does what seems necessary at the time. I suppose this is a perspective in and of itself, but doesn’t present itself as the unifying theory of immortality that I feel the book is asking for.

We are told relatively early on that Telly and Mattie are supposed to be good and pure characters, but I don’t really feel that we have any evidence of this. I mean, the first thing they do in the book is try to rob a drug dealer. I understand that they are just trying to eat and that their behavior is not nearly as reprehensible as that of, say, the drug dealer himself, but I’m still not sure how they are particularly good or righteous. I actually would have liked some more background about how they ended up on the street, since it’s not the kind of life that most people would enter into voluntarily.

The Romance

One of the immortals is a beautiful woman who apparently likes to sleep with anything that moves, but other than Telly’s brief interludes with her, there isn’t too much going on in the way of romance. Which, I know, makes it even more surprising that I liked the book.

Will I read more?

I think The Remortal is a stand-alone novel. Nonetheless, I think the author has some really interesting philosophical underpinnings to the novel. Some of the ideas in The Remortal were not fully explored or expressed, but there was definitely enough in there to make a reader think.  I would like to read more of Ramsey Isler’s work and watch how he develops as an author.

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