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February Book Recommendation


February 12, 2020 | View PDF

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Richard Roth's NoLab is a modern novel about humanity, all through the lens of art and a dash of the thriller genre.

The Courier has recently partnered with Niwot, Colorado's own Inkberry Books for periodic book reviews.. Approximately once per month, we'll be reviewing a book recommended by the shop's owners.

Their selection for February is the novel NoLab by Richard Roth. It was pitched as a "thriller/artworld spoof" and not only do I agree with that, I also think it was an overall really good read. Roth has a lot going for him in this book--he can get attention from artists, people who like crime books, those who want more representation of underappreciated voices... and all within a relatively short story.

This book primarily focuses on Ray Lawson, an artist/teacher who gets thrown into a situation way over his head: some former students of his are missing, and one student's father asks him for help to find the group. Lawson recruits fellow artist/teacher Victor Florian, a former Vietnam vet, to join him on the quest, and what an adventure it becomes! Along the way, the duo make new friendships, form a new partnership, learn more about each other, and ultimately find the student-group: NoLab. However, they also find that NoLab is planning a dramatic and arguably foolish stunt that they are calling art. It's honestly a little difficult to describe here, so you'll definitely have to check out Roth's book for the full picture.

Additionally, it is set during autumn, leading into winter 2016, so it was really interesting to see all the cultural references made throughout the book. However, be aware that some of the characters appear to lean more liberal, especially when referencing the 2016 presidential election, so if politics are a sensitive subject, please remember that this is fiction.

This story is also great because, while it's about adventure and mystery, it's also about humanity. For example, Florian has a son with autism, who eventually becomes central to the whole story, and the theme of loss is there as well. In just over 200 pages, Roth tackles normal novel issues such as plot, but also addresses more serious, real-world problems such as ethics, friendship, death, and othering, i.e. treating someone or something as fundamentally different from another class of individuals.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I thought it was well written and for being so short, had a lot of detail and depth to the characters. I do wish that there was slightly more complexity to the ending--I thought that it was tied up quite nicely, albeit somewhat quickly--just because there was so much going on throughout the book, the last chapter wasn't as fulfilling as I'd hoped it would be.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes art and mystery. I say "art" first because even though art itself is sort of pushed aside so as to focus on the thriller-aspect of the book, it's such an important and underlying theme, it can't be ignored. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the book does come at the end, where a scholar shares her theories on art through the ages and the different artistic movements over time. I also really enjoyed the commentary on what counts or doesn't count as "art." There were a few discussions around "conceptual art," which focuses on the idea of the work rather than its quality or genre, which were both interesting and illuminating because it gave a new perspective on the matter.

I would also recommend the book simply because of the characterization. All the characters were somewhat simple, but undoubtedly developed--they were given enough backstory so as to provide context, but not so much that it was distracting. There were a few characters who were introduced and then practically nonexistent, which was slightly annoying, but easy to overlook. This is a book for anyone, and definitely worth checking out.

Happy Reading!


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