“The Stranger Game” by Peter Gadol— A Thriller

Gadol, Peter. “The Stranger Game”,  Hanover Square Press, 2018 A Thriller Amos Lassen Peter Gadol’s “The Stranger Game” is a fun, thriller about an eerie social game that goes viral and spins dangerously and legally out of control.
Ezra, Rebecca’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Ezra, is missing, but when she notifies the police, they are unconcerned and suspect he has been playing the “stranger game,” a viral game in which players start following others in real life, as they might otherwise do on social media. As the game spreads, however, the rules begin to change and play becomes more intense and disappearances are reported across the country. Rebecca is curious about this popular new obsession and hoping that she might be able to track down Ezra, she tries the game for herself. She also meets Carey, who is willing to take the game further than she imagined possible. Both her relationship with Carey and her involvement become more intense and she begins to uncover a disturbing subculture that has moved into the world around her. However, playing the stranger game, may lead her closer to finding Ezra but also may take her further and further from the life she knew and lived.
In effect, we get a look at the connections, both imagined and real, that we build with the people in the physical and digital world, and where the boundaries dim between them. This is the story of a game of following random strangers, shared in a magazine article, becomes a worldwide cult and ends up getting people killed. Each “following” is a story in itself that helps us understand how the game could be addictive. There is also a melancholy undercurrent about alienation. This is a commentary on the ways in which ‘following’ can bring about a pretense of intimacy between strangers, and how the falsity of this intimacy can create a dangerous hunger for “more access, more communion, more knowledge.” Rebecca, the narrator of the story, is an artist who would probably be more successful if she was able to focus a bit more on her craft skills. She has been in an on-again, off-again relationship with Ezra for years, with the two coming and going into each other’s lives. The puzzle in the book begins when Ezra suddenly disappears, abandoning his apartment, belongings and car while leaving Rebecca to clean up in his wake.
What is telling, though, is that the police think Ezra might be playing the “stranger game”.  Rebecca and Ezra played a variation of it, where they would people-watch and make up stories about who these individuals were, what they were doing and for what purpose. The stranger game takes this a bit further, but there are rules to it. Rebecca is all but resigned to Ezra’s disappearance when she encounters a rather strange man named Carey, who is very much into the game. The two tentatively begin their own relationship, but when Carey also disappears, Rebecca is convinced that he, too, has met with foul play. It seems that the stranger game is much more prevalent than Rebecca realizes, with levels to it that could very well extend into law enforcement and government. She understands that she best get away from the game and its practitioners, but her options are limited and just might be futile. The game has three simple rules— 1. pick your subjects at random, 2. NO contact and 3. never follow the same subject twice. I was immediately drawn into both the novel and the game. I see the book as a good social commentary on how obsessed we have become with social media and how we are impacted by the people we know. Everything I have read by Peter Gadol (love that name) has been well written and this is no exception.

We have become so into social media that we spend time looking at a screen instead of at our companions, we label and categorize beliefs and behaviors rather than try to understand them, and the  lack of permanence is pervasive in the way we live our lives.
“The world was a world of strangers, and all anyone wanted…was to be seen and to be known, truly known.”

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