Layne Prescott is an expatriate returning home to Lilly’s End, Florida from his teaching post in China for the funeral of his father. As he and his girlfriend Tara sit waiting in the airport for their plane that will take them across the Pacific, they meet up with a Mr. Scott, who has a briefcase attached to his wrist by a handcuff in an airport bar. After they land in Florida and meet up with old friends, Layne discovers the same briefcase stuffed inside his luggage. From there, things get dangerously strange, as the world falls apart at 11:23, every twelve hours all over Lilly’s End. People go mad, tearing each other apart, and then killing themselves when there is no one else left to assault. The town is shut off by the government and lies about a smallpox outbreak keep the outside world at bay. All the while, everyone still alive inside of Lilly’s End is rapidly going mad, taking things into their own hands, while Layne and a few of his friends attempt to understand what is behind all of this and try to figure out what they can do to escape it.
That is the glossy overview of this story. Underneath that, this 300 page novel is thick with conspiracy, generation why angst, and a constant flow of confusion, deception, and things for the reader to ponder. I have read Jason Hornsby’s previous novel, Every Sigh, The End, and for a long stretch of that book I despised the main character for his self absorbed approach to life, which takes a radical turn as truths about the world are revealed around him. In many ways, I can say that there are parallels between that book and this one, although Hornsby’s writing has definitely matured with this book. It is clear that this is a Hornsby book-I could have picked it out blindfolded after reading several chapters. As another reviewer has put it, no one creates young, disaffected characters quite like this author. They are disagreeable, argumentative, self-absorbed, and irresistibly fascinating. It is hard to describe effectively, but while it is hard to feel much pity for the characters throughout a great swath of this book, in the end their misery is tangible, palpable, real, and you feel it along with them. Layne is one of those characters who would constantly confound you, but if you peeled away most of his facade, he would seem to be one of the most vulnerable people you might ever know. At least that was the sense I got.
I think after reading my first Hornsby book, I got the sense that the author and I would have very little in common, very little that would connect us. My presumption was that he was much like the characters he wrote. I had the chance to meet the author at a Horror Convention recently and I realized then that this was far from the truth. Hornsby just has a knack for writing characters that make you feel like you are biting down on tinfoil. He has a talent for that.
I will readily admit that I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, and as such, I probably don’t rate as someone who is a judge of the conspiracies that Hornsby presents in this novel, but I will say this-I felt pretty damn squeamish as more and more was revealed in this story, as my imagination was sparked and I tried to comprehend how deep and dark the rabbit hole the author had created was. Mr. Hornsby has created a novel that provides the disaffected youth he writes about with a nightmarish world that is even worse than they could ever imagine, which is quite a trick to pull off. This story was creative, wild, and forces you to pay attention to it at every step. But even if you do, there is more than meets the eye, and will give you something to think about long after you put the book down.
Eleven Twenty-Three can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Eleven-Twenty-Three-Jason-S-Hornsby/dp/1934861340/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1285374627&sr=1-1