Early one morning‚ after a sandstorm had ripped through north Texas‚ I wandered into Mr. Tilly's circus. I wore a black suit and blood ran down my face. When some of the carnies came up to me, I said, "I'm numb." This became my name.
A man with no memory who feels no pain, Numb travels to New York City after a short stint with the circus, following the one and only clue he holds to his hidden history: a brittle, bloodstained business card. But once there, word of his condition rapidly spreads—sparked by the attention he attracts by letting people nail his hands to wooden bars for money—and he quickly finds himself hounded on all sides by those who would use his unique ability in their own pursuits of fame and fortune. It is a strange world indeed that Numb numbly stumbles through, surrounded by crowds of suck-ups and opportunists, as he confronts life's most basic and difficult question: Who am I?
Sean Ferrell's Numb is a wildly entertaining examination of identity, friendship, pain, and the cult of celebrity that heralds the arrival of a fresh and uniquely inventive literary voice. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (17)
Original title character
Sean Ferrell's created one of the more memorable characters in recent fiction.The story is infectious and as the saying goes, it becomes a real page turner.The section where Numb appears on Letterman is especially laugh out loud funny.I look forward to reading Ferrell's next novel.
The necessity of pain
When a bloodied stranger with no memory of who he is or how he got there wanders into Mr. Tilly's Circus in south Texas, the only thing the battered and confused man can think to tell the curious workers who surround him is, "I'm numb." Though he means it literally, that proclamation also comes to be his name.
Numb's ability to absorb physical punishment without feeling the resulting pain makes for a highly successful circus act, one that finds him pounding nails through his hands and feet, making creative use of a staple gun, and acting as a human dart board for members of the crowd.
Yet it's only when he finds himself thrust into a wrestling match with a lion that Numb finally realizes his future is going nowhere, in large part because he doesn't know his past. And so, along with best friend and fellow circus performer Mal, Numb heads to New York City in search of his identity.
Once in New York Numb's life changes dramatically, as what had previously made him a freak and outcast in the circus garners him popularity and fame in the big city. Be it doing television commercials, magazine cover photo shoots, or even appearing on Letterman, Numb's problems appear to be over. And that's when author Ferrell pulls a brilliant slight of hand, taking what initially appeared to be on the surface a straightforward "Hey, look at the freak!" story and downshifting into a much more serious gear.
Through his interactions with those he meets in NYC (his agent, who may or may not have Numb's best interests at heart; an ambitious, and slightly psychotic, model he meets on a photo shoot; the beautiful - and blind - artist who appears to be the only one to "see" him for who he truly is) Numb comes to understand the necessity of pain; its role as the counterpoint to pleasure. Despite all his apparent success, Numb realizes he's stuck in a limbo world of sorts, wondering if he'll ever really be able to feel joy if he doesn't know what it is to experience pain.
Numb is a clever, offbeat tale of a man searching - both literally and spiritually - for the answer to the ultimate question: who am I? I'll leave it to you to discover whether Sean Ferrell allows Numb to figure out the answer to that age-old question, but I will tell you that Ferrell sure as hell has served up a book that makes you think about how we define ourselves. Is it by what's inside, or by what is reflected back to us by others? And when an author has the chops to both entertain readers as well as make them think, that's a beautiful thing.
He blew into the failing circus on a Texas dust storm, bleeding and battered...he said "I'm numb".
That became his name, since he did not remember who he really was, or where he came from.
Numb worked around the circus and ended up as a freak who felt no pain, nailing his hands and feet to boards. He made friends with Mal, a fire eater,and they ended up leaving the circus and going to New York together. Numb had found a bloody business card in the pocket of his suit, and was sure he would find out who he was.
Numb and Mal made money, nailing Numb's hands and feet to the bar and floor of the sleazy place, betting that he would not feel it.
Numb quickly tired of the game and went out on his own. Finding an agent, who hired PI's to check on leads into Numb's identity, he went mainstream.
Getting into a snobby crowd, Numb seemed out of his element. He moved in with a blind artist, and he became her muse. When Mal comes back into his life, Numb sees things in a different light.
The story of Numb and Mal is both sad and sometimes funny as hell. Offbeat and well written, this book was terrific!
I received this book from Erica at Harper Perennial for review. Thanks so much!
"Numb" is an amazing novel that inspires nothing but professional jealousy in this author. Ferrell writes with a lyricism that stays with you long after you've finished this unexpected story.
Brilliant debut novel!
A dark but brilliant novel about the necessity of pain.
Numb, the main character, has no family, no friends, no memory of his past before he appeared bloody and bedraggled outside a circus. Most bizarre of all, he feels no pain. People can drive nails through his hands, shoot staples into his skin, a lion can even stab its claws into him--he feels nothing.
It's tempting to see this as a prolonged metaphor for the modern condition--Camus taken one step beyond nausea to numbness. But Ferrell is too good an author for that.
The point of Numb's condition isn't how immune he (or society as a whole) is to pain. It's how much he loses by not feeling what everyone else feels. Ferrell shows us how integral pain and want are to each other. We can't know what we want if the things that hurt us and the things that help us seem one and the same. And if we can't know what we want, we can't feel love, can't even recognize it when it comes.
That means Numb is always at the mercy of everyone else's desires: the circus, his friend Mal, a surprisingly honest but driven talent agent who turns him into a major celebrity, several women. He manages to find lovers and abusers, friends and enemies, but he can't tell one from the other. Even when he makes the right choice, he doesn't know it, because he can't feel what his decision has done for him.
This is a painful novel, sometimes a little more graphic than the average reader might like. But Ferrell more than makes up for it with his spare, darkly comic style, his brilliant insights into what numbness takes away from us, and the very real compassion he shows for a character who, ultimately, wishes he could feel what most of us want to avoid.
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