Review: “The Cloud” by Matt Richtel

I received my copy of The Cloud (****) as a part of the Goodreads Firstreads program. Which doesn’t affect my review in any way except that it ensures that it exists, given that I’m not really buying many new books at the moment–too much of a backlog on my shelves as it is.

I didn’t realize until I had already started that this book was the third in a series, or at least the third book by this author to feature this character. Had I known, I would have tried to get ahold of those books first. I’m a bit obsessive about that sort of thing, as a rule. At any rate, and contrary to all my ingrained prejudices, I don’t really think reading this one cold negatively impacted my reading experience. I’ll very likely try and track down those two previous books at a library….

Nat Idle is a freelance journalist, specializing in writing about the impacts of new technologies. He’s had some notable success in the recent past, and is slated to be given an award for his work. His personal life is a bit more of a shambles, his girlfriend having left him after the birth of their son. We pick up Nat in a subway on his way home, gloomy and reflecting on his seperation from his son, when a large man careens into him and almost sends him flying onto the tracks in front of the oncoming train. When Nat regains his feet, he finds a paper with his name on it that the large man must have dropped. Suffering a concussion that keeps him from operating at full mental capacity, Nat must try and connect all the disparate pieces of this puzzle and figure out just what is going on before it gets him killed….

I have mixed feelings about this book, honestly. It is told first-person, and for most of it Nat is concussed and loopy, which means that we (the reader) are also concussed and loopy when it comes to the story. On the one hand, I dislike that feeling of disorientation that such a book or film causes. I love sleight-of-hand or odd premise type stuff, such as Christopher Nolan might do in his films (Inception, Prestige), but I don’t like being made to feel mentally deficient or of questionable sanity. On the other hand, Mr. Richtel manages to pull off that particular trick admirably. Writing first-person (especially first-person present!) is never the easiest way to go, but adding the disjointedness and confusion of Idle’s concussion would make it even more difficult to pull off….and yet Richtel does. I have to give him chops for that. I suspect that to some degree Richtel added the concussion to keep his character from figuring out the plot too fast–it wouldn’t be all that complicated if someone lucid was looking closely (but we are kept from being lucid by viewing everything through Idle’s concussed POV). That said, Idle’s concussed behavior does resonate thematically with what is going on, so it at least isn’t solely a trick to keep us guessing…..

Also included in my copy is a bonus short story entitled Floodgate. Our POV character, Zach Coles, an ex-journalist now doing office work for a political watchdog company, is drowning the sorrows of underemployment at the bar when a burly man approaches him and offers him $1500 to steal a flash drive from his boss’s safe. If he doesn’t, a little boy who may or may not be Coles’ son will be killed…..

Content: This would be rated R.
Violence: There is some violence here, but not too much. The main character has a thing for categorizing people by their medical abnormalities, so he tends to notice everything about a dead body…..
Sexual Content: There is some, though Mr. Idle isn’t lucid for it (concussion, remember?) He only recalls it in brief and disjointed flashbacks. Not outright explicit, but not for kids either.
Language: R-rated language, but its not as prolific as some authors would make it.

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