WARNING: The following review contains spoilers from the first “Muscle Memory.” My review for that book can be read here.
Do I take the blue pill and forget any of this ever happened, or do I take the red pill and see how far down the rabbit hole goes?
There's been something of an epidemic in films lately, although some could argue that it's a problem that's always been there. I refer to it as the Matrix Syndrome. Filmmakers create a great standalone film, one that is fantastic and could even be argued as a classic. That is, if they left it alone. These filmmakers decide that, rather than having the one great film, they want to turn it into a franchise, and they produce sequels that are not only terrible films, but are so bad that they tarnish would have otherwise been the sterling legacy of the first film.
When Steve Lowe announced that he was working on a sequel to "Muscle Memory," I was understandably worried. Had the Matrix Syndrome infected the literary world as well? The first "Muscle Memory" was a very good book, with an unusual take on the body-swap meme. At the same time, it was also story of Billy's self-discovery, and of his own obliviousness of his wife's condition (postpartum depression) which he didn't realize until it was too late. It was an excellent standalone book that couched a certain appropriate emotion impact within a bunch of craziness and general silliness.
So, having read the sequel, has the Matrix Syndrome affected "Muscle Memory?" Yes and no.
In the first "Muscle Memory," Billy swapped bodies with his wife, who had poisoned him the night before, so he was trapped in his wife's body, and his wife was now presumable in his dead body, or had been. Nearly everyone in their town had switched bodies with someone, usually whoever they were closest too at the time, while their neighbor Edgar swapped bodies with one of his sheep. You can interpret that how you want to. It ended with a machine that had supposedly cause the whole thing (at least, according to Terry Bradshaw) being switched back on, which would theoretically switch people back. Billy expects that he'll be put back in his now dead body and therefore be dead. It ended with him seeing a blue flash of light.
"Muscle Memory 2" picks up right where the first one ended. Since both books are told from Billy's perspective, he obviously didn't die. Instead it appears that rather than putting everyone back where they were supposed to be, it just swapped everyone again. This meant that while several people were supposedly put back as they remained close to the one who they switched with, other swaps wound up occurring instead. We have the return of several characters and references, particularly Terry Bradshaw, Kirk Cameron, and Agents Tim and Joey from the now kinder, gentler FBI,and we even get an appearance of a very gangsta Matt Lauer (portrayed in such a way that I'm now wondering if Steve Lowe had some kind of personal run-in with Lauer that left him with a bad taste in his mouth). I can't go into much without spoiling this book given its short length, but suffice to say craziness and silliness ensue, and with more intensity than the first book.
The problem is that "Muscle Memory 2" doesn't have the emotional impact that the first book had, and a lot of the silliness seems to be there for the sake of being silly and nothing else. I'll admit that I did chuckle out loud at Matt Lauer's portrayal. The author raises more questions than were answered. While not everything was answered in the first book, it still felt like we knew what we needed to know and it remained satisfying. "Muscle Memory 2" raises questions that feel like they need answers that we're not given, and it left me feeling a little empty. Things also get more serious and intense that it felt like it actually dampened part of the fun that could have been had.
Don't get me wrong. "Muscle Memory 2" is not a bad book by any means. It's still a fun read. But I could take a page from the movie “The Weather Man” and describe it as fast food. It may taste good, but at the end it's not really nourishing. Overall, it's not bad and doesn't tarnish the first book's legacy, so it doesn't suffer from the Matrix Syndrome, but it is disappointing when inevitably compared to the first book. I'm not sure if Steve Lowe is planning on writing a third book. As many questions and situations that came up during this book, this feels like it needs to be a trilogy, even at the risk of full-blown Matrixitis. If he does, I hope he takes a little more time to write it, as this book felt a little rushed and that some of these problem could have been dealt with with a little more time and editing.
"Muscle Memory 2" earns three out of five stars.