The Paper Man by Gallagher Lawson is not an easy book to describe. A meditation on art and identity, it is in a way an adult fairytale. However, it is also an allegory for how people develop their own sense of identity. I read this book in the middle of the last month, and still think about it often and the message that is at its center.
The novel focuses on Michael, a young boy that lives outside the city and at the start of the novel is running away to a life that he thinks will be more rewarding than one he currently has. From the start, we know that Michael is made of paper. He tries to hide this from the people around him, but it is not really something that can be hidden. Through the novel we learn that an accident of some type has occurred and that Michael's dad gave him a "rebirth" in paper form.
As Michael arrives in his new town it is raining, and, as you can imagine, this is deadly to a man made of paper. As he lies in the street, he meets the first of the 4 people that really create Michael's identity for him. Maiko, the woman who initial saves him, Mischa, the woman from his past who helps reinvent him, Doppelmann, the artist that rebuilds him, and Adam, the man who wants to become him, all have a section of the book where they build Micheal's identity. I don't want to give to much away, because the book takes some very crazy turns, but I will say that not everyone wants Michael to succeed. They also think of him as an oddity, a piece of art if you will, and want to put him on display as their own creation.
There is also a part of the book that focuses on the pack mentality of society, and how people will latch onto a cause - even if it holds little substance - in order to have a "purpose". The masses wear masks to hide who they are, making the point that it can be easier to act when one does not have to take responsibility for those actions. With the current political environment, I found this a powerful statement about society. Going along with others just so that you do not stand out, has caused a lot of people to be involved in actions that the do not really believe in. These people allow others to create their identity, which is the exact thing that Mr. Lawson is warning us against.
It is this idea of allowing others to create your own identity that rings throughout the novel. As Michael realizes that the only way he can change his life from what it was is to create the person that he wants to become and deliver on it, he becomes less like paper. At the end of the novel, I was really routing for Michael. I did not know how or what steps he was going to take or where he was going to end up, but I was bought in for the ride.
Gallagher Lawson is a very good writer. He created a character that I will never forget. He has a very lyrical way with words, that bring to mind very vivid pictures. The book never lags for action, and the plot will get you thinking about his ideas as he builds his story. I could not find that he has written any other books, but I will be waiting for what he turns out next.
I truly think about this book all the time. It is these books that are published by independent presses, this one is Unnamed Press, that can sometimes hold the most weight. If a mediation on self and identity is something that intrigues you, I highly recommend this novel. Micheal will stick with you, and you will hope that the paper that makes you is filled with true substance.
Book Rating: 4 books