Thursday, May 04, 2017

From the Eye of the Storm

Colin Dodds
Brooklyn, NY 2017


Regular readers of Bluepepper will likely be familiar with the name Colin Dodds, but as a poet rather than a novelist. Judging by his bibiography, however, it would be fair to judge Dodds as a novelist first and a poet second. Such distinctions are, of course, a personal matter, but any writer with six novels already under his belt, three collections of poetry, as well as two screenplays, has a fair claim to call himself anything he wants. On top of a string of awards, Dodds has won what many may regard as the ultimate accolade from no lesser a light than the great Norman Mailer himself, who said of Dodds’ novel, The Last Bad Job, that it showed “something that very frew writers have; a species of inner talent that owes very little to other people.” Having raced through Dodds’ latest offering, Watershed, in only a handful of sittings, I have to agree with Mailer (not something I am in the habit of doing). The style is simple, uncluttered, but the writer has a gift for magical turns of phrase as well as a natural ear for rhythm. Francis Bacon’s famous quip about “the burden of the conveyance” springs to mind: there is none of it here.

From the opening line I defy any reader worth the name not to feel themselves hooked:

Raquel figured if they were going to kill her, Tyra probably wouldn’t have taken so much time explaining the parachute.

And so the roller-coaster ride begins.

Raquel is, ironically, one of the least interesting characters in this admittedly crowded novel, even though she is the narrative pivot. Actually, more like the eye of the storm, the still point. The storm was already raging well before she found herself strapped to a parachute thousands of feet above the earth., which is why Raquel found herself in this situation in the first place. It’s not that she’s exactly dull. The woman is far from dull, but she is a facilitator-by-proxy around whom others act, or react to forces acting against her. She is beautiful and smart to the point of being cursed  rather than blessed. 

Like the start to any great novel, the reader feels as though they have opened a door onto another world, in this case onto a mystopia (my term for a mild dystopia), a recognisable enough world just knocked a little off kilter. In a world of Brexits, Syrias and President Trumps, this mystopic movement in literature is fast becoming a crowded market place. But Dodds writes with restraint, not forcing either the pace or the tone of the novel. Perhaps the closest he comes to testing the reader’s credulity is in a bizarre re-enactment of the September 11 attacks in which convicted criminals are forced to fly planes into replica Twin Towers, but the whole spectacle is portrayed so convincingly, complete with the voluntary martyrdom of an alt-cult “Ludlite” inside one of the buildings in a futile protest against the anaesthetising effects of the digital age, that even this jaded reader had no trouble buying it. The “Ludlites” are a seemingly spontaneous movement of young people against the digital “Web” in all its ubiquitous manifestations. They decry leaders or any form of manipulation or compulsion, but as is the way with such well-meaning attempts to “correct” the course of history, leaders emerge armed with pretty words and nefarious motives. In this case it is a mysterious figure known as “The Geometress”, although she is far from the only shadowy figure in a novel which is in large part an exploration of people’s motives in a world whose moral compass appears all but broken. Sound familiar? Welcome to mystopia.

In fact, perhaps the only character in this novel whose motives remain clear and honest throughout is Norwood, into whose arms Raquel literally lands in the most bizarre of circumstances at the very start of the novel. The most opaque character of all, and the real driving force of the novel, is the millionaire Rudolf, nee Hurley, nee Ostanze, a corrupt ex-senator who appears to be inhabited by some mysterious entity that has allowed him to live for a very very long time, the hints are for millenia. I would say more about him, but any review of such a frantic narrative requires so many spoiler alerts as to render any overview almost unreadable. And unnreadable is something this novel most definitely is NOT.

If our review copy is anything to go by, Dodds appears to be putting this novel out under his own imprint. It begs the question why some major publishing house hasn’t taken this title on. But more and more writers at the moment appear to prefer the autonomy of self-publishing. I can think of at least half-a-dozen publishers, however, who would give this novel a great deal of consideration. Any publishers out there who happen to follow Bluepepper, and who may be interested, can purchase an advance copy by clicking on the novel's title at the top of this review. The only slight reservation Bluepepper had with the novel was with the rather fiery denouement, but on a second reading it sat better, reminding this reader that it is beholden on us as much as the author to hold all the threads together.

- Justin Lowe
Bluepepper 2017


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