In this day and digital age, the question of identity is murkier than ever before. With a few mouse clicks we can transform ourselves into virtually anybody or anything, and it’s amazing how many people take the personas we build on the Internet at face value. People who can barely hold up their end of a conversation in person become passionate, persuasive arguers as long as that computer screen buffer exists between them and the people they are talking to/ranting at.
While it’s easier than ever to shape an identity for ourselves online, it’s also easier to have that identity stolen away. All it takes is a moderately-skilled hacker to crack a few passwords, and suddenly your carefully crafted public persona is out of your control.
That’s a terrifying thought, to be sure. Now apply the scenario to the real you – not your collection of passwords, screen names and social media accounts, but the you that goes to your job, interacts with your friends, and comes home to your family every day. Imagine someone else wearing your face and taking over your life, while you’re shunned by the ones you love.
That’s the horror that Justin Robinson conjures in his new novel Everyman. And while it may seem like a familiar premise – Invasion of the Body Snatchers, anyone? – I can assure you this is like nothing you’ve read before.
Ian Covey is a doppelgänger. It’s a talent he’s had since a child, although he’s never really been aware of it or known what to do with it. He spends a lot of time watching his neighbors, David and Sophie Tirado, and he’s jealous of their happy, easygoing existence. Ian’s never had a real connection with anyone, not even his mother, and this empty life has left him an emotional blank slate.
One day he’s shocked to find that he’s somehow transformed into David, and immediately tries out his new face on Sophie. She accepts him as the real thing right away, and when the real David shows up he’s chased away as an imposter. Ian is stunned at this turn his life has taken and tries his best to live this new life, only to find that a new exterior has done little to change him on the inside. He’s still unable to make a connection with Sophie, who almost immediately realizes the man she’s living with is not who he appears to be.
This is where Robinson really turns the concept on its ear. David is out on the streets, a husk of a man trying to comprehend what’s happened to him. Meanwhile, Ian begins taking on more and more identities, trying to find fulfillment from a variety of people, including a stoner, a porn actor and a little boy. Once Ian moves in, the others are forced out of their lives, and these husks begin gathering together in an abandoned house, absorbing one another into a giant patchwork creature Robinson dubs the “Gestalt Entity.” It’s a fascinating creature, one that Robinson writes deftly – think Frankenstein’s monster if he retained the personalities and memories of each person used to assemble him.
Robinson wisely doesn’t launch into long explanations of how or why these things are happening; the victims don’t understand, and even Ian doesn’t understand – they just have to accept and adapt. The same is true for the reader, making this an invigorating, if sometimes disorienting, read.
It’s a rare thing to find a completely fresh and original take on a concept, but that’s exactly what Robinson gives us here. Everyman is a character-driven piece featuring two tragic creatures and a handful of unforgettable scenes. It’s a book with more than one blind alley and more than one sucker punch, so prepare yourself. There’s lots I haven’t told you about, like the way Ian’s conscience sometimes speaks to him through televisions or radios, or what happens to the objects Ian steals from people as a gateway to taking their identity. I want to tell you about those things, but I had so much fun discovering them on my own, as Robinson told them, that I won’t take that away from you. So, I’ll leave you with this – Justin Robinson is an exciting new name in the horror genre, and Everyman is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Do yourself a favor and give it a shot.