I thought I’d share my review of Richard Thomas’s debut novel, a neo-noir thriller called Transubstantiate. He’s a buddy of mine and it’s great to see him taking his craft to the next level.
Transubstantiate is not an entry-level neo-noir thriller. (Is there such a thing?) For a good part of the novel, the real story develops as more of a monstrous, unrelenting backdrop, the great unknown slowly revealing itself as it lurks just behind the text you’re presented with, the first person accounts of a handful of individual characters whose lives will become intertwined.
If you like Twilight, then you may as well move on. Or better yet, put that third-grade-writing-level garbage down, pick this one up and try to wrap your brain around something with a pulse.
Simply put, it’s a big story. With big themes. And similar to a David Lynch film, you may feel like reading it again to really get it. Thomas has taken a fairly non-traditional format here, utilizing seven first-person accounts to weave the majority of the narrative. And some of them aren’t even human. It’s like something you might expect from Faulkner, only readable. (Don’t judge me, alright, I just hate Faulkner.)
You’ve got equal parts 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lord of the Flies and A Brave New World with a generous twist of neo-noir served on the rocks, with a post-apocalyptic-wasteland chaser. And I’d recommend slamming it all as fast as possible. The narrative is so taut you may as well turn off the phone and the laptop and dive in, or else come back to it when you can. Few books have this effect on me, fewer still that flirt with the fringes of genre fiction, and so many genres at that.
And don’t expect Thomas to give you all the answers here. You’re doing the math, as it were, throughout a lot of the novel. Thomas provides just enough pieces to make sense of the world, but with such a well-balanced frugality that you honestly feel like another character, just as vulnerable to what happens next as anyone in the narrative. This is what makes the book so engaging. You’re so up close and personal with each character you can’t help but be in the story yourself.
Now sometimes this level of parsimony can be rewarding, if not a little daunting (as in Craig Clevenger’s The Contortionist’s Handbook or Dermaphoria), other times it can be downright irritating (as in Dennis Johnson’s Nobody Move (again, don’t judge me)); But with Transubstantiate, what seems ostensibly like a meager trail of breadcrumbs, at least at first glance, quickly becomes not only fully engaging, it turns addictive. And page after page Thomas delivers, constantly drawing you deeper and deeper into his dark dystopia with a surprising fluidity, teasing the reader with the faintest glimmer of hope on the distant, smoke obscured horizon.
At the end, on the last page, not only do you want to read it again, you want the next chapter, the next adventure, the next book.
With this as a debut novel, I’d say Richard Thomas is a force to be reckoned with.
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© Anthony David Jacques MMX