The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
Bantam Books, 1992
Hardcover, 293 pages
Jeremy Bremen has a secret. All his life he's been cursed with the ability to read minds. He knows the secret thoughts, fears, and desires of others as if they were his own. For years, his wife, Gail, has served as a shield between Jeremy and the burden of this terrible knowledge. But Gail is dying, her mind ebbing slowly away, leaving him vulnerable to the chaotic flood of thought that threatens to sweep away his sanity. Now Jeremy is on the run—from his mind, from his past, from himself—hoping to find peace in isolation. Instead he witnesses an act of brutality that propels him on a treacherous trek across a dark and dangerous America. From a fantasy theme park to the lair of a killer to a sterile hospital room in St. Louis, he follows a voice that is calling him to witness the stunning mystery at the heart of mortality.
The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons is, on the surface, a novel about the pain and the power of telepathy. Jeremy Bremen and his wife, Gail, are closer than most married couples because they are also both telepathic. When Gail dies, Jeremy is no longer able to handle, to filter out, the constant influx of neurobabble, which consists of other's thoughts, around him.
Unable to cope without Gail and deeply grieving her death, Jeremy is in despair. He flees, searching for relief from the neurobabble and contemplating suicide, and begins a journey, a descent into hell, that is based on Dante's The Divine Comedy as portrayed in T.S. Eliot's verse The Hollow Man.
Simmon's portrayal of telepathy was interesting and intriguing. Upon reflection, neurobabble would be a problem to telepaths. However, beyond having a pedestrian knowledge of chaos theory and quantum physics, I admittedly didn't even try to understand the math and science Simmons used to explain the creation of new universes every time we commit to an action and the branching of universes.
Chapters in The Hollow Man alternate between Jeremy's descent into hell (on this earth), memories of happier days spent with Gail, and a mysterious third voice. How these three are interconnected is the climax of the novel. I'm not completely satisfied with the ending, but it certainly lightened up, to a small degree, an otherwise very dark, bleak novel.
Simmons is a very talented writer and I did enjoy The Hollow Man but it is a very different novel compared to Simmons The Terror, which I also enjoyed, so I'm glad I didn't read them back to back. highly recommended, with a note that it is a dark, grim novel in many ways
Bremen left the hospital and his dying wife and drove east to the sea. opening
Her thoughts reached for him just as the pain returned, stabbing behind her left eye like a thin but infinitely sharp needle. pg. 1
Neither had ever encountered another telepath of more than primitive, untapped ability. Each had assumed that he or she was a freak - unique and unassailable. Now they stood naked before each other in an empty place. A second later, almost without volition, they flooded each other's mind with a torrent of images, self-images, half memories, secrets, sensations, preferences, perceptions, hidden shames, half-formed longings, and fully formed fears. Nothing was held back. Every petty cruelty committed, sexual experiment experienced, and prejudice harbored poured out along with thoughts of past birthday parties, former lovers, parents, and an endless stream of trivia. Rarely had two people known each other as well after fifty years of marriage.
A minute later they meet for the first time. pg. 5
Gail died just before the first false light of dawn touched the sky. pg. 6
Bremen stood for a minute in the center of the room, rubbing his temples. Even here, a half mile from the nearest neighbor and nine miles from town of the expressway, his head buzzed and crackled with neurobabble. It was as if all of his life he had heard a radio tuned softly in the other room and now someone had buried a boom box in his skull and turned the volume to full. Ever since the morning Gail had died.
And the babble was not only louder, it was darker. Breman knew that it now came from a deeper and more malevolent source that the random skimming of thoughts and emotions he had held access to since he was thirteen. It was as if his almost symbiotic relationship with Gail had been a shield, a buffer between his mind and the razor-edged slashings of a million unstructured thoughts. pg. 10-11
And as far as alien intelligences go, we do not have to seek for them in outer space, as I can attest and Jeremy Bremen is soon to learn. There are alien intelligences enough among you on this earth, ignored or misunderstood. pg. 16
And as Jeremy begins his descent into hell he carries another secret - this one hidden even from himself. And it is this second secret, a hidden pregnancy in him as opposed to an earlier hidden sterility there, that will mean so much to me later.
So much to all three of us. pg. 16