Underland Press, 2018
"...he was both a fiction and real somehow."
It took me some time to readjust to the real world after reading this book, which threw me completely off kilter during my time in the head of the main character, not always a comfortable place to be. There are a number of unsettling things about this story, not so much because of what happens here, but rather because it left me somewhat disoriented throughout, trying to discern what exactly was real and what was not. In a mind that's filled with fragments of memory, strange dreams and living in a house filled with shadows and "strange echoes," it can get tricky sometimes. To his great credit, the author immerses us in atmosphere from page one and doesn't let up, ratcheting up the tension until it actually becomes a relief to finally make it to the end and breathe again.
Briefly, because this is yet again another novel that needs to be experienced, Milo Crane and his older sister Klara live together in the family home after the death of their parents in a car accident. It is a quiet life for both of them, and Milo wouldn't have it any other way. Given his dysfunctional childhood and his failed attempt at college, home suits him just fine. As we're told, thanks to their parents, neither Milo nor Klara were "suited for the modern world," so they share the house, Milo busy constructing models while imagining himself as part of the world his figures inhabited. Life changes though when Klara decides to make big changes in the landscaping and brings in Henri Blanc, the gardener who will be doing the work. Is it, as he wonders, only Milo's imagination that makes him so "wary" of this man? Or is there something more at play here? The dilemma here is that we're not quite certain what's real and what is a fiction. Fictions, according to Milo's father, live "in the mind. Of the reader," and Milo has come to the point where he needs to, as he says,
"find a way out of this novel I was trapped in -- out of the entire mental architecture I'd built up and only now realized was a cage..."But at some point, the fictions and the reality will merge, and then...
I know it's incredibly cliché to say this, but this book really does work in layers, and they are beyond-skillfully crafted here in this author's debut novel. Secrets abound, memories come to light, and even then we're still not sure that we're dealing in reality. While there is a LOT happening here that will jump out at you, it is, in a very big way, a book that deals with the question of perception, to the point where everything has to be questioned. The first time through was unsettling; the second time through I gained much more of an appreciation for what he's done here. Not only has he produced a rather chilling tale, but if you look at (and are familiar with) the literary references the author mentions, you can definitely see how these have helped to shape his own narrative in terms of both style and story; at the same time, this is clearly an original work. And without going into any sort of detail, I'll just say that my favorite references scattered throughout this novel are those relating to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein -- to me they were the most appropriate of all, but I won't say why because I don't want to wreck anything.
Don't expect a quick thrill here, because that's not what's going in in this book. It is a story that both intelligent readers and literary-minded authors can enjoy. And if this is his first offering, I'll be the first one in line for the next.