Cover image for Senseless
Fitch, Stona.
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Publication Information:
New York : Soho Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
150 pages ; 22 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A man finds himself in a Kafkaesque nightmare when he is inexplicable kidnapped. Elliott Gast is married, an ex-government bureaucrat, and enjoying himself in Brussels, networking with tech executives, when he is unceremoniusly snatched from the street--kidnapped. He is taken to a high floor in a deserted highrise somewhere in Belgium and confined in a totally empty, white apartment. Even the windows are painted over in white. Like an Orwellian torture chamber, it is always light bcecause, as Elliott will learn, the black cables dnagling from the ceiling and elsewhere, are cameras broadcasting his ordeal worldwide on the boundless internet. Anyone can tune in at will. He is a digitized castaway., a lonely survivor watched by millions as he is dealt with by his captors who are convinced he is to blame. For what, he asks, as they come for him.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Economist Elliott Gast is a man of the senses. He appreciates the subtle difference between a Pommard and a Chambolle-Musigny, and he has sampled some of the world's most exquisite cuisines. But the anarchists who take him hostage seek to deprive him of his senses as punishment for his role in creating the "global economy" and paving the way for U.S. domination of Europe. More than simply punishing Elliott, though, they want to make him an example to the world, which they do in a decidedly twenty-first-century fashion. Fitch skillfully builds suspense in this story, which is short enough and compelling enough to finish in one sitting. Trapped and at the mercy of his captors, Elliott fears for his life and is prompted to reflect back on it. In these poignantly written flashbacks, Fitch has a chance to develop his main character more fully than a plot-driven thriller would allow. In fact, the entire novel serves as a sort of extended life-flashing-before-one's-eyes experience. A harrowing thriller that is also an absorbing and thought-provoking character study. --Beth Warrell

Publisher's Weekly Review

Small like a stick of dynamite, Fitch's second novel delves into the horrific experience of a hostage forced to endure torture that ultimately deprives him of his five senses. Eliott Gast, an American trade representative, is kidnapped in Brussels by a group of terrorists who oppose the European economic union. At first, Gast finds his captivity comfortable. He's housed in a clean, three-room apartment, is fed regularly and receives plenty of books to occupy his time. That all comes to an abrupt end on day seven, when the terrorists storm in and mutilate Gast's tongue. As he recuperates, Gast notices a network of black cables that frequently drop from the ceiling and seem to track his every move. The terrorist leader, nicknamed Blackbeard because he always wears a pirate's mask, tells Gast the cables are cameras used to broadcast his ordeal around the world on the Internet. Millions of people are watching. Blackbeard tells Gast that when enough of them donate money to the cause, he'll be released. Over the next several weeks, as described in highly disturbing detail, Gast is made to lose his hearing, his touch, his smell and part of his vision. Fitch's otherwise grim, one-sitting novel, his first in nine years (after Strategies for Success), has many moments of poignant reflection as Gast ponders his past and future. He also wonders about the gruesome use the Internet is being put to an issue that Fitch resolves with brevity and ingenuity. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Picture the room where you will be held captive. You know there is one-everyone carries this room with them. A basement room from your childhood, shelves cluttered with forgotten toys and yellowed files. A classroom from your student days, each wall lined with blank blackboards. A bright apartment with a view of the city, the night avenues glistening with rain. The corner room of an old hotel, the glass transom over the door half open. Any room can become a prison. All it takes is a key and someone to turn it. Perhaps you will do the turning yourself. My father spent his days in the cell of his choice-a fine office in a sandstone building on the outskirts of Roanoke. My mother was high-strung and had trouble staying in the house for long. The sight of one insignificant item missing from our household would send her on a series of interlocking errands that could last all day. As a boy, I was a poor student and painfully shy, a combination that sent me into hiding with ailments more imaginary than chronic. I often found myself at home, reading in my bed, soup cooling on a wooden tray next to a tall glass of flat Coca-Cola laced with brandy, my mother's universal remedy. I would close the door to my room and imagine myself confined not by illness or false illness, but by someone else. Bart, the blond bully from school with his huge hands and dead gray eyes. Or my father, perpetually frustrated with the laziness he found in me and my brother Darby. It could be him behind the door, turning the key and holding me in my room until I learned to respect all the blessings that we had been given. The captor wasn't important. It was the prisoner who concerned me. I had read tales of pioneers held by Indian tribes, soldiers imprisoned in Andersonville, criminals stranded on the rock island of Alcatraz. The small scale of their lives entranced me the way that lead soldiers had when I was younger and that astronauts would when I was older. It fascinated me that an entire world could be confined to a small place, that the Battle of Culloden Moor could be reenacted on the living-room rug, that three men could live and work in a capsule even smaller than my room. Through these boundaries I learned the virtue of restraint, always the quiet boy's excuse for not hurtling headfirst into the world. When the light faded, giving way to the slow gray winter afternoon, I would leave the lamps off, waiting in the dark to see who would be the first to come home. My father returning from the office. My mother back from her errands. My brother done with football practice. Each would enter our house with footsteps of varying strengths. My father's boots thumped along as he went from room to room turning on lamps. My brother's cleats stayed only in the kitchen, where he stood in front of the open refrigerator and scanned its contents. My mother's heels clicked like a metronome. Eventually, one would climb the stairs to my room and twist the knob to find it locked. In my room, I would stare, paralyzed, at the rattling brass knob. My captor had arrived, bringing food and water, a scolding, presents, further confinement. Which would it be this time? Then I would break the spell and walk slowly toward the door, reaching up to throw the deadbolt that would let them in, let me out. As the door swung open, the prison walls would vanish as quickly as they had been created and I would be set free. But on another day, behind another door, a new captor waited along the golden horizon, for fear attracts its object as surely as desire. With my imaginary confinements, I set the stage for another, more peculiar imprisonment. * * * Day 1. I met a group of software executives for dinner at Le Nez Fin, an elegant new restaurant just off the Grand-Place, not far from my office in Brussels. Filet de boeuf with black truffle reduction, stoemp sweated in goose fat, potée bruxelloise, and bottle after bottle of wine crowded the corner table where our group huddled. I identified the Pommard, the Vosne-Romanée, and the Chambolle-Musigny even when Monsieur Tas, the foreign marketing director, switched the glasses. They were impressed that an American could be so attuned to nuance. Years in Washington, London, and Brussels had left me rarefied. I spent much of my career at parties, dinners, receptions. My field was not theoretical. I was not tucked away in an ivory tower. I was out in the world, imperfect though it might be. Our table was the setting for careful intertwining of European and American interests. Our conversation turned now and then to various technologies that could be transferred given the right conditions and other enticements to trade. I never thought in coarse terms of deals or contracts. I was simply a liaison. I brought the right people together the way an expert host does. Others in my organization endured interminable meetings in The Hague or Geneva. Most of my time was spent in restaurants and hotels, environments where I truly flourished, a night-blooming flower. Many hours after we entered, our group of six emerged from the restaurant, sated as honeybees in August. I must have had at least a bottle of wine plus a brandy with my coffee. I was not drunk, but thrumming with the heightened awareness that I often sensed walking the streets of Brussels in the blue hours close to dawn. I smelled the damp cobblestones, sour gutter rot, cigarette smoke clinging to empty cafes. Seen walking toward my apartment on Avenue Louise that morning-and I suppose I was being observed-I would have worn a bleary half-smile of contentment, blue overcoat pulled tight around my waist, collar turned up against the chill of an early fall. I can't recall when I first noticed the grating tires on the road behind me. I thought for a moment that one of my dinner companions had driven up to offer me a lift back to my apartment. As I turned, someone rushed up behind me and pulled a pillowcase over my head. It happened so fast that I didn't even think to fight the hands pushing me forward. Footsteps on the cobblestones. The click of a key in a lock. In seconds, I was in the trunk, my head banging against a spare tire as the car sped away. I pulled off the hood, gasping. In the darkness, my mind raced and I fought the rising panic. The car bumped through the night. Cobblestones gave way to highway and I sensed that we were on the ring road around the centrum. I tried to count the turns, the lefts and rights and stops. But there were too many. The air in the trunk warmed and turned stale. I recalled that there were cars with emergency latches in the trunk. I groped around but couldn't find one. And what good would it have done me? The tires hummed on the road just beneath me. After about an hour, the car stopped suddenly. I heard the doors open. Keys rattled and the trunk opened, hands reached in quickly to pull the pillowcase back over my face. They lifted me out and stood me on my feet. "Here, take my wallet." I fumbled in my jacket pocket. A hard fist to my stomach was their only answer. I curled around it, the pain ending any illusion that this was all a joke. They hoisted me like a bag of sand and carried me a few feet. It took four men to carry such an awkward load and I could hear them straining. After a few feet, they dropped me unceremoniously on the gritty metal floor. The doors of a freight elevator slammed closed, then the elevator shook slightly. In a minute, the elevator stopped. The door opened and a kick to the small of my back pushed me forward. I stumbled and fell on the concrete floor. The doors closed again. Pressed against the cold cement, I listened, sensing that I was alone again. I struggled out of the pillowcase and turned. I ran to the wall. The space between the elevator doors was almost seamless. I tried to pry them apart, then slapped my hand against them. A small metallic echo ricocheted down the elevator shaft. "Stop!" I shouted, then realized I was probably better off alone. I walked back into the room. I found myself in a clean, empty apartment. The walls were painted painfully white and the room seemed half-finished, with the metal doorframes unpainted, small ducts poking from the high ceiling. The plate-glass windows of the first room, a large living room, were painted white as well, diffusing the dim morning light. I ran my fingernail across the window but couldn't scratch the paint away. I walked through the open door to the adjoining room. In it, I saw a futon on the floor, new and smelling of plastic wrapping. Next to the futon was a carton of mineral water in liter bottles. Nothing indicated that this apartment was prepared specifically for me. No one had called me by name. I assumed that they had mistaken me for someone else. I had been in the wrong place in the early hours of the morning, looking prosperous. I had read reports of pesca milagrosa in Colombia. Miraculous fishing. Roadblocks stopped all cars, weeding out the wealthy travelers like fat fish from a pond. Miraculous for the fisherman, less so for the fish. But this was Brussels, the polite heart of Europe. In any case, what would they think when they found out they had they caught only a mid-level American economist with relatively little money and even less power? The two windows in the bedroom were also painted white. I managed to pull away a paintbrush bristle that had been embedded in the thick paint, removing a line of paint barely wider than a hair. I took a 20-franc piece from my pocket and scraped it along the hairline to widen it slightly. Squinting close to the line, I could see that this room faced the other side of the building, which was shaped like the letter E with the middle stroke removed. Far below, I could make out an indistinct, hazy landscape and the brick smokestacks of factories. I guessed we were on the outskirts of Antwerp, but I couldn't be sure. I walked back through the living room to the third room in the flat. I scraped a tiny paint blister with my coin and peered through, seeing only the whitewashed windows of the bedroom I had just been in. This room was empty except for two black metal folding chairs placed facing each other. Adjoining it was a small bathroom with a shower, sink, and toilet. The tilework and plumbing looked as if it had been completed hours before my arrival. All of the rooms smelled sharp with plaster and paint. I paced around the three rooms and tried to summon up my training from so many years ago. More than thirty years had passed, time and neglect winnowing down what I once knew. When you are taken, you must remain calm. To ensure your safety and eventual release, you must try to engage those who hold you in a dialog. There was something else about how the negotiations had to work from two directions, from the embassy and from the hostage. But I had forgotten anything useful. Hostage. What an alien word it seemed at the time. Dimly from my training, I remembered that the key to avoiding fear-which made even the strongest man vulnerable-meant sidestepping any thoughts of potential danger. It was important to stay focused on the moment, on what one had, rather than what one was being denied. I was in a clean apartment large enough for a family. I had water, air, and light. I had a comfortable place to sleep. I even had a bathroom. For now, this would have to be enough. I lay on the futon and closed my eyes, giving in to sleep for a few moments. It was five in the morning. On any other day I would have been asleep in my apartment, comfortable, safe. Day 2. I woke at midmorning sure that I was at home on our farm in Virginia. When I opened my eyes I saw a black wire ending in a small bulb no bigger than a scallion. It swayed slightly just above my face, a small red light glowing. I grabbed at the wire but it quickly retracted up into one of the ceiling ducts, an electrical snake. I stood on the carton of water bottles and ran my hand up in the duct but found nothing. I walked into the bathroom and splashed water on my face, then rubbed my hands through my hair. I wondered whether someone watched me from the other side of the bathroom mirror. I pressed two quick crescents into the plaster next to the sink with my thumb to mark my time here. All the while, I stared into the mirror. The whites of my eyes were cloudy from last night, the flesh beneath them gray as an oyster. The skein of shallow wrinkles stretched around my eyes like crazing on an old vase. But in the familiar constellation of lines, moles, and discolorations, I saw nothing new, no sign that I was not the same person I was yesterday, though I was no longer free. Freedom denied doesn't show itself on the surface, like worry or fatigue or anger. It resided somewhere other than the face. I wet my hands and ran them through my hair, graying but still thick and cut rather short. When we lived in London, I was occasionally mistaken for John Hurt, the British actor. I took this mistake as a compliment, but didn't like being noticed. Being singled out was one of my childhood fears, that father would have me speak at the dinner table, that a teacher at Groton would call on me to discuss the cetology chapter of Moby-Dick . My goal then, as now, was to be unnoticed, invisible. As I walked into the bedroom, I saw a paper bag next to the carton of water bottles. Had this been here all along? Or had someone come in while I slept and left it here? I wasn't sure. I opened it and found only a single apple. I examined it for pinpricks or any other sign that it had been tampered with or drugged but found none. I was very hungry. Had I been at the office, I would already have stepped out for bread and coffee. I bit into the crisp apple and tasted its sweetness, almost too sweet. I finished it off in a few bites, then repeated a habit from childhood and ate the core as well, chewing the seeds to a wooden pulp, leaving only the stem. My mother had always joked that I would wind up with a forest in my stomach. I laughed, then wondered if I was still being watched, what they would make of their hostage sitting on the floor of an empty room, laughing at nothing. I spent the morning pacing around the three rooms, settling finally in the one farthest from where I had slept. I arranged the contents of my pocket on the floor. A wallet. A silver pen given to me for twenty-five years with IBIS. Several receipts, including the astronomical bill from last night's dinner. My watch. Three 20-franc coins. My cell phone was gone. Continue... Excerpted from SENSELESS by Stona Fitch Copyright © 2001 by Stona Fitch Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.