When Jared Stone is diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme cancer and given a few months to live, he finds himself in a predicament. He’s not scared that he’s going to die, but he’s scared that he’ll leave behind a wife and two daughters with very little financial security. When he comes up with the ingenious plan to auction his life on eBay, giving people who bid at least $100,000 the opportunity to do whatever the hell they want with him, people start paying attention to him. From a nun who thinks Jared Stone is doing the devil’s work by bidding away the precious sanctity of life, to a wealthy psychopath who conjures up a plan to do horrible things to him, to a reality TV producer who would do anything to make Jared Stone’s family the stars of a new show. When the producer manages to get in touch with Jared, the Stones’ meager few months with Jared are infiltrated by camera crew, script-writers and the entire world.
Let me just start off by saying that the synopsis for this book is perhaps one of the most misleading synopses I have ever read. It gives the impression that Jackie Stone is the main character of the book when arguably, the story revolves around Jared. Even then, you could put forth the argument that there is no one main character- the Stone family is the star of the story, not just the father or the oldest daughter. Moreover, the synopsis seems to think that the reality TV aspect of the book is the main plot-line; again, I would disagree. The TV show doesn’t even start filming until after the 30 or 40% mark. It’s not a book about the show itself, but a book about one man’s last months with his family spent in the most unconventional of surroundings. It’s extremely important to go into this book knowing that the synopsis is misleading, because otherwise, you’ll face disappointment.
But if you go into it knowing what you’re getting, it’s really something. Life in a Fishbowl reads a lot like satire: it pokes fun at religion and religious hypocrisy, at the wealthy and the privileged, at the secret lives of the people who make reality TV. It’s an analysis of the world’s strange obsession with others’ lives, both appealing to our voyeuristic tendencies as we are thrust into a family’s deeply personal, intimate matter, and also showing us exactly how troubling this intrusion can be to the people who are its subjects. The themes in this novel are spot-on, told with humor and wit, unraveling issues deftly without ever seeming heavy-handed. It’s thought-provoking, but also extremely fun, and that’s all you can ever ask from an intelligently written book.
Life in a Fishbowl is strange in so many ways, both good and bad. Firstly, it’s divided into over eight viewpoints – which would usually bother me, but each character (including the tumor!) is given such a distinct personality, with interests and quirks, that I had fun with the viewpoints. Each turn of each viewpoint is no more than a couple of pages, so the book remained fast, fresh and entertaining throughout. That was the good strange. The bad strange was how a few characters arcs didn’t feel wholly necessary to the plot. The psychopath’s viewpoint was interesting, okay, but I’m unsure what it did for the story. And while the characters did feel fleshed out, my main issue was how they didn’t really develop. They largely remained static throughout the story, and despite there being a ton of room for development, it didn’t come.
After the 60% mark, I felt the book began to drag. I was still interested enough to keep reading, but the main thing that caught my attention was put in the backseat. The complicated family dynamic, Jared’s flashbacks to meeting his wife and having kids – all of that was put to the back to emphasize the TV show. Which is fine, but I’d have preferred more of a balance. And while Len Vlahos’s writing never loses its snarky, humorous, satirical, intelligent flair, the first half was undoubtedly superior to the second half. But even though my rating isn’t “all that,” Vlahos will be on my radar for a very long time, because I’m sure that anything else he writes will be just as sharp and delightful.