An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
An entry level graphic designer at a New York City tech firm, April was no stranger to late nights. Leaving around 2:45 a.m. one morning was commonplace. What was out of the ordinary: her MetroCard wouldn’t swipe, though she’d recently used it. Rather than buy another one, she decided to return to her office to grab another MetroCard in her desk.
Walking back, she saw what she described as a ten-foot-high transformer in samurai armor on the sidewalk. Although familiar with New Yorkers’ jaded persona, she was amazed that passers-by were not giving the statue more than a cursory look. She quickly called her friend Andy and exhorted him to bring his video gear: they were going to record for prosperity.
They created a humorous video with April pretending to interview the statue which she called Carl. With such a late night, April slept in, and by the time she woke up, their video had gone viral. Sixty-three other statues had appeared in cities across the globe, but only April and Andy’s video took off. The world starting referring to the statues as “Carl.” April became a de facto expert.
Andy’s father, a lawyer in Hollywood, immediately connected them with an agent, and April, the face of their team, appeared on television while nurturing her nascent social media accounts which she’d never really been interested in before. She broadcast a message that Carl was on earth for benign purposes, even when puzzles began to appear online–and people suffered an infectious dream that might give a clue to Carl’s intentions.
In contrast, Peter Petrawicki and his group, the Defenders, viewed Carl as a national security risk, and believed that the United States should militarize against the threat they posed. April and Peter became figureheads of competing movements and gained even more fame while their followers competed to solve Carl’s mysteries and gain control over his potential powers.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is absolutely creative and fun to read, finding the solutions to the puzzles along with April and her closest allies. The novel also is dense with questions about fame and how it changes people, and about the risk of losing authentic relationship when judging popularity through social media likes. It describes then skewers the process of branding a persona for online consumption. And, it criticizes the tendency for debates to become narrowed to ideological divides that sow dissent and breed extremism.
Green asks a lot from the novel, and for the most part, the tone, from April’s voice, is sardonic and witty. There are two problems though. One is that the book veers too often into almost essay territory (complete with bullet points) on these subjects. The second is that April is not the most sympathetic protagonist. At only twenty-three, thrust into the spotlight, it’s not surprising she would make mistakes, but I’m tired of narrators who are isolated, self-destructive, unable to commit, and yet have a core group of dedicated friends who are loyal beyond all reason. Maya, perhaps the most interesting and authentic character, gets too little attention.
Who the Carls are and what they want is solved, but not in a satisfying manner, and April’s role is mystifying, as is the lack of government control over the Carls. After finishing An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, then, I was a little disappointed, though I had enjoyed the process of reading it. That said, if there is a sequel, I will read it to see what happens next.