She said, “I never want to see you again.” She said it without any edge or tone. It was the most perfect thing anyone had ever said to me. I remained surrounded by strangers who couldn’t get enough of me, and intimate friends who couldn’t stand the sight of me.
The nameless, amnesiac protagonist of this novel is nicknamed 'Numb' because he doesn't feel pain. This, and the happenstance of his encounter with Mr Tilly's Circus one scorching day in Texas, provides him with a new career: a circus performer who pounds nails through his own flesh, becomes a human dartboard, and wrestles with an elderly lion.
It's the lion (weary and sick) that makes him leave: he runs away from the circus, heading for New York City in search of his past. He's accompanied by Mal, a fellow circus artiste: but Mal quickly becomes peripheral to Numb's new life, and jealous of the success –- a beautiful girlfriend, a swift ascent to celebrity on the media carousel, intriguing leads that might reveal his past life –- and ends up pushing his own limits further than is wise.
There's a point at which Numb wonders whether his knowing Mal is bad for his girlfriend Hiko. I'd go one step further and say that knowing Numb is bad for everyone. He's immune to pain, but he's also apparently immune to human emotion. Oh, he gradually realises that he needs pain, needs to be able to feel, that being numb is no kind of life at all: but that's too late for most of the people who've become close to him.
There were some interesting ideas in this novel, but on the whole I can't say I enjoyed it, or that I liked any of the characters.