Fiction Review: 14

This July I started a new job. Beyond the cool work, free food, and awesome headquarters, there's a ton of interesting social groups that meet physically and/or on Slack. One group I'm in is a reading group which has introduced me to fiction that is of interest to me but that I might not have otherwise read.

Earlier this year we read Peter Clines' 14. It is a book about a group of people in a very strange Las Angeles apartment building. The rent is very cheap but it's never advertised - people always hear about it via word of mouth. The apartments are weird and unique. One is always very cool - the same constant temperature, no matter what. Another has a kitchen where any light bulb is always extremely dim. Another has a layout where nothing is directly connected to a wall - power outlets are on the floor, kitchen counters are a few inches away from the walls, etc. And is is two stories tall for some reason.

Our main protagonist is Nate, a data entry temp (who has been at the same place for years) at some minor Hollywood trade magazine. Many of the other characters are odd - religious zealot, weird artist, recently divorced older dude who seems to be good at everything.

Published in 2012 it really evokes its time. It's at the tail end of the Great Recession, and none of the characters are well-off. Many work for some Hollywood-related industry, though none are actors.

Nate is obsessed with the weirdness of the building. He wants to understand why it is the way it is, who owns it, etc. He also really wants some purpose in his life. He hates his job. Uncovering the mystery of the building becomes that purpose. Others in the building join him, becoming a "Scooby gang".

I'm hesitant to give many more details, but it has a strong Lovecraftian influence, along with some strong doses of weird science - the Tesla seen in Atomic Robo and The Prestige would be right at home here. There is a lot of weirdness here. I'd call it "Lovecraft Lite" - I don't mean that in a bad way, rather a lot of weirdness, a lot of danger, some horrible fates and cosmic horror, but the possibility of something resembling a happy ending - for some of the characters.

I enjoyed reading this. Some people in my reading group compared it to Lost - I never really got into Lost so I can't speak to that. I was pleased that the mystery built up but much of it was explained as the book progressed. I was also able to predict some plot developments - areas where Clines dropped some hints beforehand. I also enjoyed his realization of Las Angeles - being a New Yorker originally and having been in the Boston area for over two decades now, I kinda consider anything west of the Hudson River to be "the west". But Clines' LA seemed real - not the glitzy Hollywood version, but the one in which many people live and work.


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