We Are Here
You never know where Michael Marshall is going to take you. Just when you think you have things in hand, a grasp of where they are headed, he takes you down a totally unexpected path that upends all of your suppositions. His books make demands; more often than not, one has to pass the guard at WTF before entering the land of OMG to get a grasp of what is going on. Still, the reader’s patience is always ultimately rewarded. That has never been more true than in WE ARE HERE, his latest novel.
Before we begin, let me provide you with a couple of warnings, one major and one minor. The minor warning is that WE ARE HERE features a character who was a primary protagonist in Marshall’s 2009 novel, BAD THINGS. But you do not have to be familiar with the latter work to enjoy his new title. The major warning is that if you spend even part of your existence wondering if people --- even total strangers --- are conspiring against you, following you, observing you, or otherwise meddling in your life, WE ARE HERE is going to tap right into that vein and mainline a boost to you. Oh, here’s another: Marshall wastes no time disorienting the reader, going in quick succession from a man on the run who meets his fate in a rundown rural motel room to an unsettling encounter in Penn Station between David, a soon-to-be-published fledgling author, and a stranger who is vaguely familiar.
"While WE ARE HERE is at times a challenging book to follow, it is one that will stay with you beyond its cataclysmic ending."
At the same time, a former attorney turned bartender/waiter named John and his edgy lover, Kristina, agree to do a favor for Catherine, a member of Kristina’s book group. Catherine has the uncomfortable feeling that she is being followed, or watched, or something. John, whose previously acquired skill set includes some surveillance techniques, agrees to shadow her and discovers that she is being watched by someone who is perhaps best characterized as...insubstantial. This leads John to a well-intentioned clergyman, a group of people who exist on the fringes of society (and possibly of existence), and an extremely dangerous character who makes no bones about warning John away. This, of course, is like waving a cape in front of a bull, as far as John is concerned, particularly when he and Kristina begin receiving messages written on the window of their fifth story flat in Greenwich Village.
While this is developing, David is trying, without any success at all, to write the follow-up to his soon-to-be-published novel, all the while keeping a secret from his pregnant wife, Dawn. However, the stranger David encountered in Penn Station keeps turning up, and suddenly he remembers --- or thinks he remembers --- who this individual is.
You might ask if there is a link between these very disparate storylines. Yes, there is, one that even includes that relatively short but memorable vignette in the motel room. The answer would give away the carefully constructed farm that Marshall has built, and I don’t want to do that. Let us say for our purposes that it covers everything from the perceptions of children to religion to emotional disturbances and beyond. Oh, and if you are looking for explosions and fisticuffs, there is a bit of that here as well.
The result is a work that defies easy genre classification. Is it a thriller? Indeed. But it’s also a mystery and perhaps a horror novel, with a New Age element or two tossed in. While WE ARE HERE is at times a challenging book to follow, it is one that will stay with you beyond its cataclysmic ending.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 10, 2014