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A Delusional Odyssey Through New York's Tunnels

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast hosted by NPR's Lynn Neary. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Two years ago, Granta magazine named John Wray one of the best American novelists under the age of 35. He has also been called "America's most original young writer."

Wray is an adventurous guy. He's been a cab driver in Alaska and spent a year climbing mountains in South America. To promote his last book, Canaan's Tongue, he traveled down the Mississippi on a homemade raft. More recently, he wrote much of his new novel, Lowboy, while riding on the New York subway. Wray says it was like being "an overeager '70s method actor," but the experience certainly helped him get into the mind-set of the hero of the novel, a paranoid schizophrenic teenager.

As the story begins, Lowboy — as 16-year-old Will Heller calls himself — is getting on the B train after escaping from a mental hospital. Lowboy has a mission: He believes the world is coming to an end because of global warming, but he thinks he can save it. All he has to do to cool down the earth is lose his virginity. And that's exactly what he sets out to do.

Lowboy has been described as a "riveting and disturbing ride" with a "thriller pace" and "brilliant hallucinatory visuals." Kirkus Reviews said the reader may be reminded of both Salinger and Dostoevski.

Lowboy is Wray's third novel, but it is nothing like his earlier books, which were both works of historical fiction. Wray says he always wanted to be like film director Stanley Kubrick, who could move deftly from one genre to another, creating something "new and strange" each time. The idea for Lowboy came when he read an article about a manhunt for a prisoner whose anti-psychotic medicine was wearing off. The author had always been interested in mental illness and was drawn to the story right away, fascinated by the idea of writing about a person with schizophrenia. But Wray says it was one of the most difficult things he ever tried to do.

John Wray and his editor Eric Chinski discussed Lowboy on March 18 at the McNally Jackson bookstore in New York.

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Lynn Neary
Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.