Read by Will Collyer
Length: 13 Hours 19 Min
Genre: Science Fiction
Quick Thoughts: You is a brilliantly constructed novel that I found at times, mind numbing and just a bit sad. Grossman did what he set out to do, creating a narrative that will ring true to those who were part of that community of gamers and game industry people, while still offering a fascinating window to this world for those who were not.
One of the things about growing up straddling the line between poverty and lower middle class in Suburban America is my family was always significantly behind the curve in regards to technology. I remember spending large portions of my younger years without a television, where once a week we were given a special treat and invited over a family from my church’s house to watch The Dukes of Hazard. I loved going over to my father’s lady friend’s house, because she had an Atari 2600 and I could spend hours playing Space Invaders, Asteroids and their strange version of PACMAN that is unlike any other version around today. By the time I got a hand me down Atari 2600, my neighbors had moved on to the ColecoVision, yet, still my brother and I used to abuse the hell out of the single button controller until the black casing was ripped and all we were left with was a white plastic stub. By the time I got my first computer, a used Commodore 64, my friends were moving on to Commodore 128, Apples 2’s and first-gen IBMs. I remember my Commodore 64 fondly, with a program called SAM (Software Automatic Mouth) that would verbalize anything you type, until you told it to shut up, then it ended the program indignantly. I remember writing papers for school on Speedscript. My family never owned any equivalent to the PC beyond the Commodore 64. We never got a VCR until I was a senior in high school when we got that and a Nintendo Entertainment System as a holiday gift from an aunt. I bought my first Computer when I was 25, after getting my first bonus check, spending $1,000 on a piece of crap system that was probably obsolete the year before I bought it. All this was frustrating to me. I was one of the first generations born into the computer age. I loved computer, read about them in science fiction, yet, to this day, am just a little intimidated when I sit down with my friend’s kids who speak programming as another language, literally.
Russell, a failed Law Student searching for his place in the world, reaches out to some high school friends about a job in their successful Video Game Company Black Art Games. When a series of shakeups leaves him in charge of designing their next big game, a major bug in the programming forces him through the company’s milieu, searching for a hidden secret left behind by the company’s deceased visionary founder. You is a brilliantly constructed novel that blends a coming of age memoir, with a biopic look at the gaming industry during it’s hey days of the nineties. Yet what really stands out is the almost interactive segments where Grossman manages to infuse you into the story through a carefully constructed second person perspective that gives the feel of the old text based adventure games of the period. The story blended together in an often disconcerting, stream of consciousness manner that included some intriguing dream sequences that complimented the gameplay segments. All together it’s a fascinating, high concept tale that manages to give an intimate feel. Part of the reason I started this review telling some of my personal technological background was to try to explain my overall feelings in the novel. You made me, at many times, wish I had a reset button for my life. These characters were on the edges of a new groundbreaking technology that the younger version of me wished he could have been in on. It created an almost melancholy feel from me, a sense of loss. I had always wanted to be more into Video Games, yet, by the time I could actually take part, I felt as if it passed me by. Throughout You, I felt like I wanted to connect with these characters, that I should know something about their world, yet I felt like an outsider again, looking into someone else’s world. It was sort of a strange feeling. Sure, literature is often voyeuristic, living vicariously through characters, yet, for me here, it was somewhat harder for me. I was mesmerized throughout the whole listening process to this novel. Grossman’s prose balanced strangely between the beautiful and the mundane, often achieving the odd poetry of a tech manual, effective putting us into the thought process of the characters. While I was mesmerized, I can’t say I especially loved You. I found it brilliant, at times mind numbing, and strangely sad. No matter my reaction, I feel Grossman did what he set out to do, creating a narrative that will ring true to those who were part of that community of gamers and game industry people, while still offering a fascinating window to this world for those who were not.
With the shifting perspectives of You, and its offbeat storytelling style, I can imagine it would be a challenge for the most veteran of narrators. Will Collyer’s narration was spot on, handling all the challenges like a true professional. Collyer allowed the listeners to accept the immersion of the story, and willfully fling themselves into the underlying narrative of the gaming world, whether it be the story of the games development, or actually inside the gameplay exploring fantasy worlds and deep space. Collyer captured the rhythms of the prose, transitioning from matter of fact sharing of information, to pulling the emotions out of characters who actively avoided them. I personally thought it was an excellent performance of a novel full of pitfalls, where pacing and rhythms mattered more than characterizations. Austin Grossman’s tale, at times, makes you the central character, and Collyer’s narration allows this to happen with ease.
Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.