Quotients by Tracy O’Neill: Literary challenge to modern thinking

Quotients by Tracy O’Neill is literature of and about our time, asking questions that are timeless to wantonly challenge modern thinking. Read on for our full review.

Quotients by Tracy O'Neill - Book CoverQuotients Synopsis

Two people search for connection in a world of fractured identities and aliases, global finance, big data, intelligence bureaucracies, algorithmic logic, and terror.

Jeremy Jordan and Alexandra Chen hope to make a quiet home together but struggle to find a space safe from their personal secrets. For Jeremy, this means leaving behind his former life as an intelligence operative during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. For Alexandra, a high-powered job in image management for whole countries cannot prepare her for her missing brother’s sudden reappearance.

In a culture of limitless surveillance, Jeremy and Alexandra will go to great lengths to protect what is closest to them. Spanning decades and continents, their saga brings them into contact with a down-and-out online journalist, shadowy security professionals, and jockeying technology experts, each of whom has a different understanding of whether information really protects us, and how we might build a world worth trusting in our paranoid age.

(Soho Press – May 2020)

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Quotients is a cup brimming over in ambition. The scope, scale and depth of subject matter, along with O’Neill’s approach to exploring them, is wantonly challenging.

In literary prose filled with doublespeak, whether spycraft or verbal jousting, seemingly disparate character perspectives are laid before the reader. It is unsettling. The path to joining the dots is obscured, but nonetheless, our instinct to do so is strong. But can our desire to find connections, or even problems for solutions, conjure images within spilled paint? This is one of the many questions Quotients asks of its audience.

What is clear is this artwork is intended to be experiential; to simulate life experiences and distil their effects for potency, reflection and interrogation. O’Neill’s narrative certainly awakens the mind from any form of slumber. Though, the point at which artistic licence morphs into excess is blurry, and one highly dependent on the reader’s mood or inclination.

Fortunately for me, at this time and place, this challenge proved a lure. Specifically, a lure to understand, to solve a puzzle… not necessarily to connect with the characters.

Modern themes, timeless questions

That context is key to our responses to stimuli is one of several cautionary observations readers make on the Quotients reading journey. Others include the fact that we all compartmentalize our lives, and the intimacy and divisive nature of secrets.

However, one need not always assume our motivation to compartmentalize is manipulative or duplicitous. Often, it is merely a matter of data/time management. One simply cannot know all there is to know. And so, in order to keep moving forward, we must make calls on the data available to us.

Similarly, a willingness to not rail against big data, social media and targeted marketing need not be naivety, but a conscious choice to allocate energy to things that bring joy.

In Quotients Tracy O’Neill offers up literature very much of and about our time, asking questions that are timeless. And, as is the nature of art that challenges thinking, this novel’s accessibility and impact will heavily depend on audience experience and context.

BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5  — Overall 3.5

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Genre: Literature, Drama, Mystery, Romance

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About the Author, Tracey O’Neill

Tracy O'Neill author

Tracy O’Neill is the author of The Hopeful, one of Electric Literature’s Best Novels of 2015, and Quotients. In 2015, she was named a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree, long-listed for the Flaherty-Dunnan Prize, and was a Narrative Under 30 finalist. In 2012, she was awarded the Center for Fiction’s Emerging Writers Fellowship. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, LitHub, BOMB, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Literarian, New World Writing, Narrative, et al. Her column Body Language appeared in Catapult. She holds an MFA in fiction from the City College of New York and an MA in communications from Columbia University.

* My receiving a copy of Quotients for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.