Review: Like Real by Shelly Lyons

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In Shelly Lyons’s debut novel, LIKE REAL, Vic Moss—kenjutsu hobbyist and clueless Lothario—lets vanity dictate his decision to acquire an experimental new-tech prosthesis that promises to evolve into a seamless, realistic looking hand. Instead, it tears from his body, transforms into his clone, and pursues a relationship with the same woman Vic has in his crosshairs—forcing Vic to kill or be replaced.

This mind-bending body horror rom-com is a rollicking Cronenbergian gene splice of Idle Hands and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. It’s freaky. It’s fun. It’s LIKE REAL.


Like Real is the story of Vic Moss and his missing hand, well not missing, but surgically removed, and not exactly the whole hand but all but his thumb and part of his palm. Before this, he lived a pretty normal life, enjoying Star Trek, Japanese katanas, watching game shows, and using dating apps to meet girls. When his hand needs to be removed, it pretty much ruins his life, so he has to get it fixed. In comes Like Real and Doctor Cord, who makes prosthetics that look real. When Vic receives his new hand, his life turns into a jumble of bizarre and horrific events. I science and body horror, so this novel is right in my sweet spot. This is why I received Like Real from the author at my request, in exchange for an honest review.

There are many things to like about this novel. Even though the main character Vic is a little bit of a bro who thinks he is overachieving my doing more than the goals that he sets low for himself, he surrounds himself with good, decent people. His friends and neighbors are willing to help him at any turn. His friend Norman helps him with whatever he asks, has a brain filled with self help quotes that he rattles off at any given moment, and lets Vic borrow his car whenever he asks. His next door neighbors, Cozy and Mamie, are two middle aged women who spend most of their lives out by the pool. They also clean Vic’s apartment while he is away, invites him to every gathering that they have by the pool (even after he has been a nuisance to them), watches his dog, and lets Vic borrow their car whenever he asks. Even the love interest, Tanya, is a benefit for Vic. She does have an agenda, trying to get the scoop on his story while bribing hospital people for information with petty cash and homemade cookies, but she is still a good person. Deep down, she is concerned about him, regardless of the terrible mistakes that he makes. There seems to be a wholesomeness in the cast of characters that end up helping Vic along with his journey.

The writing is clever and very funny. The scenes and chapters are well constructed, and the writing decisions that Shelly Lyons makes mostly work out. We are given a coherent story, even when there are some high concept things happening. This story has many moving parts, and it could have very easily turned into a train wreck. We could have gone on long journeys with Tanya to find information for her articles, or we could have been navigated through the long corridors of the Like Real building. We could have fallen into some technical scenes about the procedures and the life and work of Doctor Cord. These things did not happen. The novel is written in third person omniscient, but it does not get far enough away from Vic that we forget what is going on with him.

I loved the last third of this novel. This is when the story starts to really turn, and we learn the fate of Vic and other the Like Real patients. The first two-thirds are good, but I would have been interested in seeing the book if started at the last third. The first part is very much developing the story and the characters, helping us understand the nature of the situation and almost lulls us into a feeling that we might know what is going to happen next, but the final third is really where the action picks up and the pages start to fly by. This is where all of Vic’s neighbors, coworkers, and friends really gather to get their friend through his tough situation with his hand that is just like real. As it is, by the time the last third arrives, we do feel like we have a good understand of Vic and his friends and why they fight so hard to help him.

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