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Woke Up Lonely

2.74  ·  Rating Details ·  724 Ratings  ·  159 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
Apr 26, 2013 Matt rated it did not like it
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
Apr 05, 2014 Elaine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
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
Apr 29, 2013 Abbey rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
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,
B.r. Stagg
Mar 29, 2013 B.r. Stagg rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
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
Mar 26, 2013 Tuck rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 19, 2013 Dotty rated it it was ok
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
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
Jan 08, 2014 Tracy rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, ebook, kindle
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
Jan 07, 2014 Amanda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 05, 2012 Jeff Golick rated it really liked it
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
Apr 12, 2013 Travis Fortney rated it liked it
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
Mar 19, 2013 Judy rated it liked it

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
Mar 16, 2013 Jodi rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-read
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.
Aug 31, 2012 Casey rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 29, 2014 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-literary
I really loved this book. It's sad, lovely, funny, strange, and fantastical. It's complex and multi-layered, challenging without being difficult to read.

That being said, I get that some people won't feel the same way about it. In fact, some of the negative reviews on GoodReads are what encouraged me to read it. Many of the complaints (trying to hard to be like David Foster Wallace, overly complex sentences, lots of disconnected character story lines, etc.) put me in mind of exactly the kind of b
Jun 13, 2014 Garry rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Michele Weiner
Aug 06, 2013 Michele Weiner rated it really liked it
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
Feb 19, 2013 A. rated it liked it
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
Michael Brockley
Mar 02, 2014 Michael Brockley rated it liked it
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
Oct 05, 2014 Kenny rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
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
Apr 02, 2013 Clio rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 25, 2015 Anthony rated it really liked it
Guys, this is a literary fiction book with an actual plot. It's great! On a sentence level it is sometimes over-written and awkward, but I still found it to be compulsively readable. Pynchonesque in its character names, weird sex, use of niche vocabulary words, and deep exploration of interesting but esoteric topics (e.g. nuclear treaties in North Korea). Not pynchonesque in that it has an ending.
Nov 01, 2015 Lora rated it really liked it
Who doesn't want to read a well spun wild yarn about cults, paired with espionage and multi-dimensional characters you feel like you dated once? Sort of Pynchon meets early Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn etc.). I might have bought it because of the title, in a fit of self-pity, but I was very impressed.
Jun 11, 2015 Melinda rated it really liked it
long, winding, and beautifully written, each individual narrative twists and turns and connects to the other in rewarding, wonderful, and often bleak ways.
Lanie Tankard
Apr 12, 2013 Lanie Tankard rated it really liked it
Apr 01, 2014 Sara rated it did not like it
Shelves: stopped-reading
If I read the word "wrest" one more time, I am done.
I was so excited when I saw this book at the Harvard Book Store warehouse sale because I am fascinated by cults (*cough* Scientology), so a portrait of a maybe-cult with an unsatisfied leader? And the book's blurbs on the back making it seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread? Sign me tf up.

What's on the back of the book is not really an accurate summary though - which isn't necessarily a problem, except that the entire book seemed too lost to even have a summary. It meanders through all
Danielle Berg
Jun 12, 2017 Danielle Berg rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club-books
The second half of the book saved it from being a book that I would have rated as a 1 star. At the beginning I felt like there was no character building, and the sentence structure was confusing and disjointed. It was easy to get confused as there was generally no transition from one characters perspective to another. About halfway through all of that changed, the writing style became more personal and I got to understand the characters on a deeper level. I have considered that this writing styl ...more
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Fiona Maazel is the author of the novels LAST LAST CHANCE (FSG, 2008), WOKE UP LONELY (Graywolf, 2013) and A LITTLE MORE HUMAN (Graywolf 2017). She 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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