Fifty Mice: A Novel
“a torturous, suspense-filled journey through the maze of a man’s jumbled memories . . . ”
One moment, Jay Johnson’s life is humdrum, two degrees below boring. He’s waiting for a commuter train to take him to his tiresome job. In the next, the nightmare descends.
“Somehow Jay’s out of the car, onto the platform, off-balance, spinning like a capstan, caught in a casual crush of commuters coming and going as the two (or are there three?) men with their hands on him steer him out of the crowd.”
Jay awakes with more questions than answers. His captors won’t respond with reasonable explanations, and his own replies aren’t the ones they want to hear.
Thus begins the maelstrom of terror that soon evolves into a single question: What do I remember?
“‘You’re in the Program now . . . Witness Protection.’
Jay hears himself say it once more: ‘What?’
‘Safe. Nobody can get to you because you’re in the Federal Witness Protection Program.’
‘I’m in witness protection.’
Shaking his head slowly, Jay genuinely tried to wrap his mind around it: ‘Why? . . . I think there’s been some kind of mistake here.’”
No mistake—or so the people confronting him contend. He knows something they need to know, though he has no idea what, and they can’t (or won’t) give him any hint of what it is.
‘I’m the wrong guy . . . I’m nobody . . . I don’t have anything to tell you. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t see anything.”
In the days that follow, Jay will try to escape, thoroughly examine his past and present life, and attempt to remember something, anything, that might’ve caused him to end up in this predicament. He’s now sequestered in a settlement on Catalina Island, a place more imaginary than real where anyone and everyone other than himself may or may not be one of his captors and no one’s to be trusted.
“He still wants to believe these are rational people who have made a mistake, and if he’s convincing enough . . . they’ll let him go.”
Given new identification and a new family, settled into what appears the normalcy of surburban life, Jay’s told he’ll stay there until he remembers whatever it is he swears he doesn’t know. He begins to form an attachment for Helen, his pseudo-daughter, a child who refuses to speak to anyone, and that makes him wonder. . . .
“What does she not want to remember?”
That brings a new question: What if he’s not the one who needs to remember? What if it’s Helen?
There’s a glimmer of memory here and there but Jay can’t decide if the images in his mind are authentic or simply manufactured recollections in an attempt to please his captors. Reality is blurring into supposition and half sought-after fantasy.
“What happens when everything you’ve known is made a lie? And all the lies play true? Are you the sum of your memories, or a collection of consensual verifiable facts?”
In the end, Jay decides he has to escape, or die trying . . . for himself and for Helen, and that may very well be what will happen.
This novel is a torturous, suspense-filled journey through the maze of a man’s jumbled memories, suppressed by trauma or completely nonexistent. There’s a claustrophobic, straightjacket intensity to the impotence Jay feels, a summing-up of the universal nightmare of being confined in a strange place through no fault of one’s own, while no one will listen. Fifty Mice is a taut thriller building on that fear with near-poetic description and language.