Reviews > Published on December 30th, 2014

Bookshots: Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Fifty Mice

Who wrote it?

Daniel Pyne

 The story twists and turns inward, then outward, then in on itself again, and everything that happens might be a ruse – social, mental, or both.

Plot in a Box:

A guy gets drugged and whisked away into the witness protection program for reasons he cannot fathom. Do they have the wrong guy? Does he just not remember why he needs protection? Is what he experiences even real?

Invent a new title for this book:

Alfred Kafka’s South by Southwest

Read this if you liked:

The Wrong Man, The Trial, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Meet the book’s lead:

Jay Johnson, a seemingly normal guy who, we gradually learn, has a most abnormal psychology. Or does he?

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Ryan Gosling making poor fashion choices

Setting: would you want to live there?

No way. Having a house on lovely Catalina island would be offset by the lack of differentiation between paranoid fantasy and horrific reality.

What was your favorite sentence?

You look in the mirror and you see not your face as it is, but your face approximated by the millions of times you’ve seen it before, tired, hungover, happy, broke, sick, young, younger, the baby, the boy, the survivor, the man, staring back at you, reversed, reflected, ever since you were first aware it was your face, the sum total of yourself, not even close to what another person looking at you would see.

The Verdict:

The title Fifty Mice refers to one of the many behavioral and cognitive experiments described by the protagonist’s best friend, Vaughn, in which rodents are subjected to cruel, sadistic tricks designed to make them go so far as to eat each other in frenzied despair. In one such experiment, fifty of the mice just gave up, called it quits, lost their will, abandoned not only all hope but all mental activity. The question the novel poses is: What happens when the experimental subject is a man not a mouse?

Is it pure coincidence that the protagonist has the same name as the current Secretary of Homeland Security (only the Secretary spells his first name "Jeh")?

It’s an exciting, disturbing read. The words fly. The story twists and turns inward, then outward, then in on itself again, and everything that happens might be a ruse – social, mental, or both.

I’d have preferred a more wrapped-up ending, but closure isn’t Pyne’s goal at all. He might argue that tying up all the loose strings would defy the novel’s point. And I might agree with him. Still, a little clarity helps at a book’s end. Otherwise you risk having no choice but to throw your tiny paws in the air and eat yourself.

About the author

Ed Sikov is the author of 7 books about films and filmmakers, including On Sunset Boulevard:; The Life and Times of Billy Wilder; Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers; and Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis.

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