Author Patrick Oster’s novel, THE COMMUTER, centers around the question: What happens when your curiosity of strangers gets the best of you?
This story follows Barnaby Gilbert, a man whose life gets a lot more interesting after he’s laid off from his job. Aside from his bird-watching hobby, Gilbert also enjoys fantasizing about the lives of the people he notices on his daily train commute. He decides to pick up a new hobby – following these people to see where they go and what they do. An innocent quest ends up immersing Gilbert into the mysterious and dangerous world of several criminal enterprises.
Oster starts the novel with a captivating beginning: “But on that fateful Friday just before things began to unravel, all seemed normal, even calm.” The tone of suspense carries throughout the story, with Gilbert finding himself in even more unusual settings (among them a Chinese counterfeit business and a house of prostitution). Because Gilbert is a strong protagonist with strict morals, he often views his entrance into criminal territory with a light-hearted confusion, providing the novel with much needed humor.
Although Gilbert is a well-developed character, there are many side characters that are either too detailed or not detailed enough. A full cast of characters includes the government agents Gilbert comes across, the 3 fellow commuters he crosses paths with, and their henchmen and friends can be a tad overwhelming. Halfway through the story, Oster switches points of view to another secondary character. This switch is not only confusing, but unnecessary – the really interesting perception is Gilbert’s take on the world around him. There are also several grammatical and punctuation errors in the novel, which detract from the flow of the novel.
Though THE COMMUTER could benefit from sticking to Gilbert’s story alone, the novel is overall a fun read for those interested in protagonists who find themselves in strange circumstances.