Score: 87/100 (8.7 out of 10)
So, is everyone dead? Are we in purgatory? Are we in Hades? Is this the Hotel California? Are we in an alternate/parallel reality like Neverland? Are we in some sort of fantastical pocket universe like in Once Upon a Time in which the events in fiction books actually happened and are crossing into our world?
This book has so many different angles and interpretations. That can be a very good or very bad thing depending on the kind of person and reader you are. If you're someone who loved the non-linear, edgy, chaotic, yet choppy nature of something like Pulp Fiction, you might like this book. If you're someone who wants a story with a three-act structure with a clear hero and a clear villain, grounded in a gritty, realistic setting, then this book may not be for you.
This book is SURREAL, hence the Neverland comparison. It's almost like a dream. Maybe you haven't thought much about the contents of your dreams, but normally, dreams are made up of random thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences—either manifest or latent, real or imagined. They often skip from thing to thing, topic to topic, and much of it gets forgotten or challenging to recall by the time you wake up. That's what this book is like.
Now, dreams are awesome. They're just not always... comprehensible. However, there are people who enjoy interpreting (or trying to interpret) dreams. It's almost like solving a puzzle, in a sense. Either you like doing it or you don't.
We can tell you that this book primarily follows John Proctor, a man moving back to New England on the verge of turning 70. Each day brings John “closer to the old bone yard.” He returns to New England realizing that it may reopen some old wounds.
John has had a long and storied life including a past he has seemingly suppressed. However, reality comes knocking on his front door when he encounters Eli, a boy who reveals that he may be descended from John. He is the grandson of one of John's late wives, Sara. There is also a potentially scandalous angle to this.
John and Eli continue to swap ideas and conversations about some of their interests and experiences. Prominent among these interests is an interest in classic literature, namely The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Interestingly, one of us also wrote a book which used descendants of characters from these exact same books. What a coincidence!
What's interesting is that the characters from these two novels seem to blend and blur into reality, almost as if they're a part of the narrative of this story. And maybe they are.
In a strong sense, the characters and themes from Hawthorne and Melville's works overlap with those of John and Eli. For example, John's promiscuity and sexual sins make him comparable to Hester Prynne. Eli's quest to know John—the unknowable old man—and to better understand his roots parallel Ahab's quest for Moby Dick. His desire to simply be a part of something bigger and to find himself on a journey parallels Ishmael, a character he is constantly compared to.
There are also references to some of the characters who don't get near enough respect and attention like Tashtego.
One motif that keeps occurring is Queequeg's coffin, the object on which Ishmael floated and survived on after the sinking of the Pequod by Moby Dick. It's fitting in that it symbolizes that one can find their “life” (or appreciation for it) while on the verge of death.
It's kinda difficult to sum of this book without spoiling things or messing up our interpretation entirely. The truth is, different people are going to have different interpretations of this very surreal novel! What's yours?
You can check it out on Amazon!