Mohr’s fifth novel is a culmination of his earlier work and a baseline for his future fiction.
A Joshua Mohr novel is a rare bookstore gem found by sheer chance. His books are out there. They’re not on colorful posters suction-cupped to Barnes & Noble windows. They’re not displayed on endcaps. They’re not on Amazon’s bestsellers list. But they’re out there. If you’re lucky enough to stumble onto one as I did years ago, you’d better pick it up, pay for it, go home and get reading. His newest effort, All This Life, is no different in that regard. This time, though, instead of acting as another installment of Mohr’s short but prolific career, his fifth novel is a culmination of his earlier work and a baseline for his future fiction.
All This Life features a loading spinner on its cover, an image most people can associate with internet connectivity. One that also forces people to walk around holding their phones to the ceiling, cursing. While we all know what you’re not supposed to do after seeing a book’s cover, it’s not a stretch to assume that this novel is an indictment of the digital age. Mohr makes many statements in his novels, most revolving around the complexities of human nature. This novel is not a 300 page complaint. It’s a display of human wants and needs, a staggering tragedy of how alone people can feel in spite of having countless outlets, both physical and digital. It’s also a story of hope and redemption that flies in the face of pessimism. While there may be a jab here or there, this novel isn’t about the internet. The internet is the novel’s lens.
All This Life follows a handful of threads from an ensemble cast who have little to do with one another in the opening pages. Their connections are at first limited to the shared experience of witnessing a marching band hurl themselves one by one from the Golden Gate Bridge. Introverted, disconnected Jake and his father, Paul, may be the only two characters in the cast to physically see the event, but it’s Jake who films it all, uploads it to YouTube, and watches the number of views exponentially increase as the video goes viral. It reaches Sara in Arizona as she becomes an internet sensation herself when her ex leaks their sex tape onto the internet. It reaches Sara’s old friend, Rodney, who struggles to speak after falling from a weather balloon years prior. It reaches Kathleen, a caricature artist and recovering alcoholic who wants to find the courage to call the son she left behind. And Noah, a Type-A Millennial who feels the guilt of barely noticing the shift in his sister Tracey’s personality until he watches Jake’s video, watches Tracey jump off the bridge.
Each of Mohr’s characters suffer from severed connections that have left them empty. While that may be enough to fill a novel’s worth of stories on its own, it’s the cast’s inability to rewire themselves, to face those they are desperate to reconnect with that drives the story toward its conclusion. Whether it’s Rodney’s massive speech impediment, or Kathleen’s fear of facing herself and what she’s done, or Paul feeling too old to be able to properly understand his son in a world he feels has left him behind, they all suffer from this lack of connection. Mohr uses the internet – its interconnectivity, its false sense of reality and the utter apathy therein – to illustrate his character’s flaws.
In a novel about characters attempting to reconnect with one another, what better way to reestablish those connections than going back to where the story began, a literal connection between too points. All This Life’s final act builds to the convergence of all of the novel’s threads on the Golden Gate Bridge. In reaction to an act of violence, the cast is thrust together to face themselves and one another. While lives are saved rather than lost this time around, nothing is solved in a single moment. Mohr leaves readers with a sense of hope that stems from his characters’ attempts at reconciliation.
Mohr weaves his characters together with terse language and gritty detail. His knowledge of his characters, his patience in unraveling their connections, the simplicity of the individual threads and the complexities inherent in tying them together is nothing short of masterful. Above all, he’s not afraid to hurt you, to pull at you, to stretch the limits of what you’ll put up with in order to elicit emotion that builds to a real and logical sense of hope. All This Life is sad, funny, brutal and beautiful. All the things most readers want from their books. All the things bookstores should want to sell to their readers. You may have to go digging to find it, but it’s more worth the effort than slogging through most of this summer’s bestsellers list.