I’m a huge fan of Dan Simmons’s work — when he hits. With The Hollow Man, he misses. Though his talent as a stylist is once again on full display here, the story is confused and overly-complex, leaving the objective of The Hollow Man obscure and ambiguous. One look at the plot devices at work — neuroscience, serial killers, homelessness, telepathy, depression, the mafia, quantum physics — ought to tell you the story is bogged down with excess baggage. And did I mention the abused, deaf-blind boy with Down Syndrome who plays a hand in the novel’s climax?
Regarding content, The Hollow Man is the story of a telepathic man who undergoes a drastic life change after his wife, also telepathic, dies. The severing of this bond, which we are led to believe is stronger than the average relationship due to their mind-to-mind connection, causes the man to take extreme measures in coping with the resulting depression. Like the devices at work, his travels take him all over the map seeking mental healing. He ultimately does find escape, but not in the manner one expects.
In the end, if it weren’t for Simmons’s crisp prose and innate storytelling ability, I don’t think I would have been able to finish the book. Deep down, I do think the message of The Hollow Man has value — that the book has something positive to say. However, in order for this value to shine forth, the focus of the plot needed to be much narrower to allow the thematic elements to rise above the storytelling. Exploring the many facets of telepathy and neuroscience on their own would have been enough to fully flesh out the working theme. In the end, I give Simmons full points for intention, but the result just doesn’t warrant a glowing review.