For many years my mother was a care worker for autistic youth. One older boy she worked with, as part of his condition, did not distinguish reality from fiction. He watched Spiderman on tv and therefore Spiderman was real. At any moment the superhero could come swinging down from the trees outside the front door to zip and/or zap some baddie—zero distance between his reality and DC comic’s created reality. Of course for most of us the distance is greater than zero. But it remains a question of subject and degree. Some people keep a distance from the created realities of books, films, television and the other arts we immerse ourselves in regularly, while others draw closer, and are even capable of reciprocity. (Have you seen, for minor example, the costumes at ComicCon or a Trekkie convention?) Looking at an ordinary man who goes from a normal distance to zero, Tom McCarthy’s brilliant debut Remainder (2005) looks at created realities, our interest in and response to them—and in a manner significantly more intriguing than dressing up as Spiderman.
A delicate spiral, Remainder looks at art imitating life, life imitating art, and most importantly, movement between the two spheres as one becomes the other, all in strongly Ballardian fashion. The blurring of lines creating a quiet personal crisis that spills over into the public domain in less than ideal fashion, the novel is disturbing from a pure story point of view: one man’s estrangement from reality becomes an obsession with realizing the “reality” thereof. But from purely a thematic point of view, the novel is far less disturbing, rather more stimulating, captivating. The interplay of the story’s devices and elements forms an engine whose potential parallels to real-world subject matter perpetually set the gears of thought turning.