Wool by Hugh Howey

17164686Fiction — print. Omnibus edition. Simon & Schuster, 2013. 509 pgs. Library copy.

A woman in my book club spent ten minutes of a recent meeting trying to convince all of us to read Howey’s novel. Her suggestion was shot down because the book is too new and, therefore, difficult for people to acquire (I spent nearly six weeks on the waitlist for one of the sixteen copies at my public library). I decided to read it based on her effusive praise and her statement that her brother and her cousin, neither of whom are readers, read this book in two days and have not stopped talking about it.

In Howey’s dystopian world, men and women live in silos tolling their days below or above ground depending upon their role in the community. The “uppers” live in the top part of the silo serving as the mayor, sheriff and deputies, or in the IT department while the “mids” – so-called because they living in the middle of the silo – work as doctors, nurses, or on one of the hydroponic farms and those on the lowest floors work in the mines or in the machinery shop.

The later rarely make the journey up to the top of the silo unwilling – or, more likely, unwelcomed – to take in the view at the top of the desolate, acidic landscape outside through the single window. A window onto a shattered city that must be cleaned and maintained to prevent erosion from the environment outside the silo’s walls; a task that falls to those accused of treason against the silo for no one has ever survived a cleaning. While no one has ever refused to clean when they get outside the silo’s walls, Holston, the first to volunteer to clean, is determined to be the first to do so.

The greatest intrigue of this novel is the setting in which it is placed, and I have to applaud Howey for taking something as mundane as a grain silo and turning it into something so imaginative. I do object to the idea that the silo is located in Atlanta, Georgia given the resources used to maintain the silo and the jobs that provide said resources, but it is minor detail in the face of a highly-detailed, highly-structured society created by Howey. While the novel appears at first glance to be a critique of environmental degradation, it is actually a thorough critique of technology and its ability to distort perceptions of reality.

The novel is broken into five parts and each part gains a new main character – Holston, the sheriff of the silo; Jahns, the silo’s mayor, and Marnes, her deputy; Juliette, a mechanic promoted to sheriff; Solo, who I cannot describe without spoiling the novel; and Lukas, a IT worker. The shift in focus is difficult to appreciate at times; I began to care about one character only to be told I must care about another right away. The sense of loss becomes an unnecessary drag on the narrative and was never replaced by the hatred or fear I was supposed to have for the villain of the novel because of how much of a caricature he was. He could not have been more obvious if was he twirling a handlebar mustache.

Fairly well paced, the novel moves forward through a series of events with cleanings of the window (and, therefore, the silo) demarcating the end of several sections of the novel. It becomes an intriguing question of who will be next and why that I found myself racing towards that eventually unfolds into what happens when someone refuses to clean for the first time.

More information about the past of the society – how and why it was founded – begins to open up to the reader, and I ended up enjoying those chapters more so than the ones covering life outside the silo. The novel, thus, goes through a series of ups and downs in terms of enjoyment, particularly when a whole slew of characters are introduces at the end with little resolution, and I’m sure I will pick up the next two books in the series in the new future.

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