I just finished this book, and it provoked a strong reaction in me, so I have to leave a review. First of all, let me say that in my opinion, this is not a perfect book. There are some small issues I had with it, but I just didn't have the heart to give it four stars. I think it's much closer to five than four. Let me begin with the things that I personally did not like:
The single most glaring flaw to me (though this is entirely subjective and others may disagree) was Parsons' prose. It's not bad, exactly, I don't want to say that, but it did repeatedly pull me out my immersion in the story. The thing is this: even though I like literature and do a fair bit of reading, I'm a physics major, and thus I'm pretty left-brained most of the time. Unlike some artier people, who are more in tune with this sort of thing and have a better eye for it, when I read a novel, I do not generally notice the "style" of the prose. I comprehend what it says and move on, unless it strikes me as particularly graceful, as does much of Adam Smith's writing (though he didn't really write literature), as does much of Twain's writing, to name two examples off the top of my head.
With this book, though, the prose stuck out at me. The writing sort of plods along, for lack of a better term. Sentences tend to be simple, declarative statements with a single clause, with not very many commas. Perhaps "journalistic" would be a better way of describing it. I just recall many instances in which I would become distracted by the way in which a passage was written. Here's an example from the first paragraph of chapter two:
"He was barefoot. His nightshirt was soiled with blood. The same blood sheathed his face and his eyes were wild marbles in its midst [I am going to interrupt here and note that there are a LOT of people in this book whose eyes 'are marbles']. Smoke coughed from every crack of the shanty."
Now, to be fair, you could very well argue that in this particular scene, it is a stylistic choice designed to evoke the urgency of the character's situation, but this happens many times in disparate circumstances. Here's another example from chapter nine:
"He staggered to the writing desk again, opened the drawer he always locked with a key, and took out the lavender box. He could not look at it. He quickly snatched it up and shoved it into the valise. He put on a high-topped hat, denting its crown as he pushed it over his brow. He closed the bag and brought with him a bottle of Portuguese wine."
I might have written the above as: "He staggered to the writing desk again, opened the drawer he always locked with a key, and took out the lavender box. Unable to look at it, he quickly snatched it up and shoved it into the valise. After donning a high-topped hat, denting its crown as he pushed it over his brow, he closed the bag and brought with him a bottle of Portuguese wine."
All the "he...he...he..." repetition (which happens frequently) is just monotonous and jerks me out of the story. It does seem like it gets a little better as the book progresses, but the style is similar throughout. Oddly enough, this (perhaps overly) simple prose is absolutely festooned with poetic descriptors: words like umbral, azure, porcine, and many others. It's a strange contrast. Personally, I also felt like the three main characters were somewhat lightly characterized, despite the fact the we spend quite a bit of time with them by the end of the novel. I never felt like I really understood what made Warren tick, for example.
Anyway, on to the good things about the book, which far outweigh the bad. It's a very interesting concept, told in an ambitious way, and it manages to hang together admirably all the way through. There are a couple things I really like about the book. One is that he takes the concept of this pool, and then does a very good job of exploring the possible consequences, both large and small, which would come from its existence. Little bits like explaining how one character planned to use a duplicate to pose as his son so that, upon death, he could inherit his own business, or illustrating the societal tension between different factions really show me that the author put a lot of thought into this, and it really made the world believable.
Really the best thing is probably just the overall flow of the story. Pacing is good, and I think he strikes the absolutely perfect balance between withholding, on the one hand, too much information from the reader, and thus leaving everyone hopelessly confused until the end, only to lay a hundred important details on you all at once (cough, William Gibson, cough); and giving the reader, on the other hand, too much information, thus removing the mystery and suspense. Little by little, along with the characters, you will put together the clues about what is really going on with this strange pool.
I also have to single out for praise the last third of the book, the 2006 section, which quickly turns into a sci-fi/horror story, and a very good one at that. I absolutely loved this part of the book. A lot of the time, sci-fi/horror elicits the following response from me: "Cool!" This story, however, was mainly just genuinely creepy and extremely icky (on that note, I doubt anyone on this page is very squeamish, but be warned: this is a very violent book, and in particular, there are a couple of scenes in the last third of the novel that are mildly disturbing if you're sensitive). Anyway, I tore through this last section, reading the last 120 or so pages in a day.
All-in-all, it's probably the strangest novel I've ever read, which as far as I'm concerned, is about the highest praise I can give it, since I love strange novels. The strangeness doesn't get in the way, however; the book is very easy to digest, and it's not really weird for the sake of being weird. Given the plot, it absolutely makes sense to tell the story the way that he does. Again, it bears repeating that Parsons has done a fantastic job writing what is really a fairly complicated (in terms of "moving parts" of the plot) book that just works and doesn't "feel" complicated. Bravo, and I can't wait to read more from Parsons.