I had such hopes for “The Phone Company” when I started reading it. The writing had a gritty immediacy that was unpleasant but compelling.
The story was centred around things that interest me: the online disinhibition effect and the dark side of social media which enables and even encourages us to be our worst selves.The mass voluntary sacrifice of privacy in order to be always on and always connected or just to get a better deal or a better ap.
With me, David Knight should have been preaching to the choir. I use a Samsung Smart Phone because I can easily take the battery out and kill the thing. I use duckduckgo as my default search engine and I have ghostery on both my browsers. Instead, he almost made me a fan of The Phone Company.
In the beginning I was pulled in by David Knight’s world building. I liked that the Smart Phone was called a Tether (that’s pretty much how I experience mine). I liked the evocation of life in a small town in Montana. I enjoyed the hinted at conspiracies and the smooth movement of the narrative backwards and forwards along the time line.
Sadly, after a while, it seemed that the book just lost its way.
The big bad Phone Company was TOO bad. It became pointlessly evil and ridiculously powerful, able to ignore the laws of physics. This changed it from a scary adversary into a force of nature with no personality and no agenda, just a huge potential for destruction.
The good guy, a local school teacher, widower, single parent and ludite was so boring and so weak, and so self-pitying that I wanted to help the Phone Company cut out his ineffectual but self-congratulatory liberal bleeding heart.
The good guy’s best friend, a local Sheriff, started off interesting and then just faded to a plot device.
When we went on a pointless trip to Mount Rushmore just so I could be lectured on how terrible it was that this sacred place had been vandalised, I nearly added “The Phone Company” to my DNF pile.
I stuck with it because the writing was good and I foolishly believed that the story had to go somewhere eventually.
By the end of the book, the gritty edge had given way to nasty, but surprisingly coy, voyeurism mixed with a maudlin sentimental view of how much our hero loves his family.
I don’t think I’ll be reaching for any other David Jacob Knight books in the near future.