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Woke Up Lonely

2.74 of 5 stars 2.74  ·  rating details  ·  600 ratings  ·  145 reviews
Thurlow Dan is the founder of the Helix, a cult that promises to cure loneliness in the twenty-first century. With its communes and speed-dating, mixers and confession sessions, the Helix has become a national phenomenon—and attracted the attention of governments worldwide. But Thurlow, camped out in his Cincinnati headquarters, is lonely. And his ex-wife, Esme, is the onl ...more
Hardcover, 323 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Graywolf Press
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So look, Amazon bought Goodreads so they could turn us all into data and capture the elusive beast "discoverability" (a beast in large part created because all the goddamn bookstores were driven out of business by, um, Amazon). Which makes me kind of want to cloak and deny what brings me to a book, right? Just to at least make them work for it. But then for fuck's sake, I often leave little breadcrumb-reviews of how I heard of a particular book for myself, because I do not go out and buy every b ...more
I can’t think of a book I’ve disliked more than Woke Up Lonely. I’ve left books disappointed, unnerved, irritated or angry that I wasted my time. Woke Up Lonely left me feeling grateful to rid myself of the company of a smiling sadist.

There’s lots of great (and good…even passable) literature that deals with unpleasant, difficult, damaged and flawed characters. There’s just as many worthy works that shine light on tragic, fantastic and far-flung “realities”. I found no emotional or social truth i
Man, I hated this book. I've never been one to be down on MFA programs - I have enough friends who teach in them - and I don't see why writing can't be studied and improved like any other skill, but this book is a poster child for a certain kind of pretentious, overly stylized, wanna be hip, all in your head writing that I have heard other people perjoratively associate with MFA programs!

This is parody that is absolutely unfunny, satire that is totally blunt, a love story that will leave you ut
Oh man, I wanted to love this book. Sincerely. I love the concepts - exploring loneliness within the context of community - the power dynamics of loneliness between leaders & followers - political conceptions of loneliness (and East vs. West). The idea behind this book is SO strong and interesting.

And yet, the delivery is treacherous to get through. Maazel is a talented writer, no doubt. Amazing imagery, fantastic one liners; but this book was trying to do TOO much. It was mostly confusing,
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This book has a lot of inconsistencies that made me not enjoy it as much as I might have otherwise. The characters have incredible power - one is an international cult leader so influential that North Korea has started developing a relationship with him and the feds are watching him, the other is a master of disguise and spying - but both fall apart because they miss each other (they were married at one point.)

Great portions of the book feel like the author got tired - at one point the cult lead
B.r. Stagg
Maazel can write amazing sentences. From the very first page:

"Thurlow had many epithets of notoriety, but this was his least known. Ex-husband. How about: Cult leader. Fanatic. Terrorist. On a bus in D.C., staring her down with those eyes. Not the pellucid blue of men who compel for being unreachable, but the crepuscular blue of day into night, a transition as reliable as it is fleeting and, for these twin qualities, emblematic of the thing you'd love all your life."

When I read that I thought I
This book was given such rave reviews:

"It's as if a Paul Thomas Anderson movie (The Master, There Will Be Blood) married a David Foster Wallace novel and had a baby. Which is to say, this story is weird, thrilling, and inimitable. The talented Maazel has plenty of imagination." —USA Today

"[Maazel] has a real talent for taking these existential millstones of modern life—fear of death, failure, being alone, everything—and filtering them into morbidly funny, troublingly familiar forms. . . . Woke U
graywolf is just tearing up the book world this spring and summer with "city of bohane", "translation of dr apelles", "on sal mal lane", "love is power, or something like that", "airmail", "my lesbian husband", "percial everrett by virgil russell" and this one, "woke up lonely" (and lots more really, graywolf press is set to take over the world in 2013, well maybe)
maazel was also picked top "5 under 35" by national book award
this story is about how isolated and lonely one can be in this our mode
Ok, I read this book because it's the play-in for the Morning Tournament, which is the reason I kept reading the book after I could already tell I loathed it.

Early on I was thinking, ok, this is a 3 star read, but the writer doesn't really understand how humor works, that it requires more than scenario and character setups that read like bad Saturday Night Live skits. But I thought the story itself could be redeemed from that.

It couldn't. It was just awful. The ... the sheer contempt that bleed
The only reason I read this is because it was on the Tournament of Books finalist list. It is also the only reason I finished it. With all the books to choose from I'm really not sure what this is doing on the list. I found it to be on the ridiculous side. There is a scientology like cult that is supposed to help people deal with being lonely but that also has ties to North Korea. There are hostages and dysfunctional families and some stream of consciousness writing that is actually pretty good ...more
Jeff Golick
An extremely rich book. The story is far-fetched -- est-like cult; secret Sin City beneath Cincinnati; undercover operatives from the West going deep into North Korea --- but despite the narrative extremes, the well-drawn characters and even more deeply felt situations and relationships keep us pinned to the ground, as we wish, perhaps more than some of the characters, that these people find what they are looking for.
Travis Fortney
My review from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, which you can find here:


As the title would suggest, Fiona Maazel's second novel--after 2008's Last Last Chance--is concerned with loneliness. In its pages, we meet Thurlow Dan, who has founded a cult called the Helix to solve the problem of loneliness. It isn't working particularly well for him, and in the course of the novel he will go to desperate extremes to cure himself of this affliction once and for al
When you crack open Fiona Maazel’s Woke Up Lonely, strap in and just go with it. The more you give yourself over to Maazel’s dark satire the more you will enjoy your ride. Here’s where I exhort yourself to give in and don’t think about it too much. Because if you start the “but, really, is that even plausible?” you’ll just ruin everything and the ending of this book is so touching and sweet that it’s worth all the “hrmmm. . . .”

Oh, and before I forget, if you dig Vonnegut you will dig this one.
I really wanted to love this book. It sounded like it had an interesting plot line and structure, and Maazel is definitely a talented writer. It seemed like it took about 100 pages before the book really took off, and I couldn't feel sympathy for any of the characters. They seemed very two-dimensional and I didn't connect to any of them. Perhaps writing from just the two main characters' perspectives would have helped me engage more, as they really were the most interesting of the bunch. Curious ...more
This book is great! The language is so strong, and the story's action chugs ahead without pausing to breathe.
But then, when you're finished, you can think back on all of the poignant moments of the novel. Because there are a lot of them.
Read this one in April 2013.
Quick plot synopsis.

Man establishes cult that spreads quickly, drawing in lonely hearts like a vacuum cup, but man really only wants to get back with wife who is a master of disguise and also some kind of Federal agent tasked with capturing her husband because he has become a threat to National security following his naïve relationship with North Korea, but her plan goes awry and leads to a hostage situation that can't possibly end well.

This could be the synopsis for a brilliant piece of litera
Michael Brockley
In "Woke Up Lonely," Fiona Maazel examines the plight of 21st century loneliness by presenting the stories of six individuals, one of whom is the leader of a cult that has as its purpose the creation of a community that transcends loneliness. Think "Bowling Alone" with a plot. Of sorts. Maazel challengers herself with the novel's subject matter but the reader feels too cut off from the story, as if the tale is unfolding on the other side of an as yet unreached corner or as if the book is, at tim ...more
Michele Weiner
The Helix is a belief system - like Scientology in structure - that takes over the lives of its adherents. It was founded by Thurlow Dan, who was looking for a way to feel connected to his loved ones. Even after his marriage to Esme, a sort of super government agent, and the birth of their daughter Ida, Lo cannot deal with intimacy. He expects too much and expects to fail and he runs away to form his group of deluded searchers. There is some sex involved. Esme has a factotum who makes her incred ...more
This is a strange novel that I have mixed feelings about. Mazel creates many beautiful moments in this story about a cult leader who kidnaps four government agents. The cult leader is kind of a sad sack and the agents aren't really agents just four messed up people who are being manipulated by the cult leader's ex-wife, who is an agent. The cult called Helix, isn't exactly a cult either. It's a movement to ward off the loneliness of contemporary America. All of this should make for a powerful co ...more

The publisher's letter to the reader in the front of my review copy of Woke Up Lonely suggests there are two ways to read the novel: speedily while being propelled by the action or taking one's time to savor Maazel's precision, wit, and prose. In my first reading I attempted the speed method but kept being foiled by the prose. I got to the end feeling supremely annoyed. Who is this Fiona Maazel anyway, I thought, and why is she considered to be so hot?

She tells us the story of Thurlow Dan, found
The language slips and slides and Maazel (pronounced like Gazelle) doesn't always go for the easy sentimental, so the payoffs for true tenderness are real here. It took awhile though to get the rhythm, and to keep all the different character's straight, and I'm still confounded by all of them and what exactly happened. There's Thurlow Dan and Esme and Ida. There are also the four hostages, Anne-Janet, Ned, Olgo, and Bruce. Then there are a couple of other minor characters associated with the hos ...more
Full Stop
Jun 09, 2014 Full Stop added it
Shelves: summer-2013

Review by Scott Beauchamp

Cults can be cultural barometers. American cults seem to have a knack for dressing up our existential need for belonging in whatever the current cultural fashion might be. They turn strange brews of topical interest and existential dissatisfaction into movements. Take, for example, the Los Angeles hippie-collective-cum-rock-band-cum organic-vegetarian-restaurant, the Source Family, led by Father Yod (born James Edward Baker). The M
If I read the word "wrest" one more time, I am done.
I both really loved and really did not love this book. I could not put it down due to a combination of being enthralled and wanting to be done with it.
The writing was beautiful, the characterization was unique. At some points the over-uniqueness seemed a bit pretentious but it didn't take away from the quality as much as I expected it to.
This book confused me, excited me, and shared something special with me. But I do not know if I love it. It's a bit meta.
Melanie Greene
Ugh. I mean, lots of bits of it were funny. And lots of times I found myself interested in individual characters. But: never the main ones. Low was constantly painted as being unappealing in various ways (weak, whiny, obsessive, a bad son, disloyal) which, fine, no cult leader in infallible, but to make me believe (or care) that he was capable of holding forth for hours at a time of captivating speech-making, there ought to have been a *hint* of charisma in there. And she was even more ridiculou ...more
Perhaps I just wasn’t in the appropriate mood or mindset or something – but it feels like (as with that production of Threepenny) there is something interesting going on and I just can’t get to it. There’s an artificiality to the book that undercuts the imagination that went into dreaming up the story. Even Thurlow’s cult, The Helix, is an interesting concept: we’re all so lonely, let’s join together to be less lonely – but it’s almost there as an afterthought. Based on the end of this novel, ar ...more
I was ready to give this a 2 until the end was cute enough to win me over to the three. It feels like the author was writing a few different things and realized the common theme was the characters loneliness and decided to just churn 4 short story ideas and a novella into a sausage maker to force one complete novel. In a strange testament to the book's theme of people longing for understanding and the ability to reach out to their common man, each characters inner lives seem fully realized but t ...more
1.5 stars

Thurlow Dan is the leader of a national self-help group called The Helix and his ex-wife, Esme Haas, is a government operative who is apparently a master of disguise. Thurlow Dan makes some unfortunate choices like making deals with North Korea and kidnapping four employees of the federal government. Haas is brought in to help bring Dan down.

The premise of the book is actually pretty intriguing, but the plot and the characters were underdeveloped. The backstories of Thurlow Dan and Esme
I can see that this book is for somebody, but it wasn't for me. There was something about the joke-y tone of the whole book that irked me. The author obviously likes Vonnegut's style of joking brutality, but, while Vonnegut succeeds in making this work for at least most of his writing, here it comes off as "wacky" and "slapstick" in a way that feels a little forced (this is also pretty much how I feel about Tom Robbins, who could easily have been the other influence over this novel's style).
This was the sole Tournament of Books book that I listened to. Due to the nuttiness of the library app that I used and my tendency to multi-task, I would often find myself listening back to previously-heard sections of the book. This was not necessarily a disadvantage. I found the plot and voices easy to follow and distinguish from one another.

My takeaway from this book is that Mazel had some good ideas and turns of phrase, but didn’t carry the entire plan out. Perhaps it was the reader, but the
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Fiona Maazel is the author of the novels LAST LAST CHANCE (FSG, 2008) and WOKE UP LONELY (Graywolf, 2013). She teaches at NYU, Brooklyn College, Columbia, and Princeton, and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
More about Fiona Maazel...
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“Little moments nostalgia
does not have to extol, because they were already nice to begin with.”
“We didn't need dialogue; we had faces.' It's what Thurlow used to say on days they spent staring at their newborn. Ida on that play mat with the arches overhead, groping for toys, gumming the fur, and them on either side, on their stomachs, watching the world dilate in her eyes.” 1 likes
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