Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Wanderer

The WandererThe Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I published Jarvis' first piece of (published) fiction "The Imaginary Anatomy of a Horse" in the Leviathan 4 anthology, which I edited back in 2005. His was a slush-pile submission, picked out of hundreds. I was very pleased to "find" this author, though I think that with Jarvis' poetic voice, this was eventually bound to happen. Yet, I will attempt to remain as unbiased as possible in this review.

The difficulty with reviewing this kind of strung-together narrative, wrought and bound up in metafiction, is: where to start? Indeed, the end of the book is the beginning of the mystery, in many ways, and one's brain loops over and over trying to puzzle out what must be an eternal (and infernal) mystery. It is clearly a work of horror, with all "flavors" present. There is a Twilight-Zone-ish element to the overall central conceit - that living forever may be fraught with terror. But the work owes more to Hodgson, Ellison, and Machen than Serling (though I am aware of the connections between Ellison and Serling, especially in regards to Ellison's writing of what I consider to be one of the best short stories ever written, "Paladin of the Lost Hour," which was originally published in Twilight Zone Magazine). The post-apocalyptic narrative which seams the stories all together also owes something to Serling's show, but it also reflects M.P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud, albeit with a far less boring narrative voice.

I won't attempt to block out the plot step-by-step - others have done so in their reviews on Goodreads - but, suffice it to say that the plot is a complex folding of stories-within-stories-within-stories. Because of the structure, there were points where I felt "shot out" of the flow. For instance, one of the characters, Duncan, tells his tale and it becomes apparent that he is far older than anyone else at the table. Un-naturally old, in fact. I wondered why there didn't seem to be any reactions to this blatant anachronism on the parts of the ones listening, then, two sections later, there it was: a full justification for why the narrator did not share their reactions right away. Thus, there are times where I felt pushed out by the metafictional elements. They were rare, but noticeable.

That said, each story flowed well internally, as stories in and of themselves. And once one picked up the thread of the uber-narrative again, it was fine. Interesting that with the tales of several different characters being told, Jarvis' voice does not smother the individual character's voices, nor does it unravel into something that is not clearly recognizable as his voice.

Jarvis also effectively dances on the jagged line between supernatural credulity and banal insanity with his characters. They often call themselves into question but, ultimately, they know what they have seen and experienced and cannot deny it. The question is: when should and should the reader at all suspend disbelief? That tug and pull keep roping me back in when I'm ready to dismiss the narrative as hokey.

Then there is the background metafiction of Jarvis himself investigating the strange circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Simon Peterkin and the subsequent discovery of the manuscript of The Wanderer. After reading the book and returning to the introduction again, I see how Jarvis has folded in the theme of travel to the hidden plane of Tartarus (called by many names, but herein christened "Tartarus") and the disappearance of Peterkin, which one would not notice upon first reading. Like James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, one must loop back again to begin to understand what happens at the beginning - but, given the circular nature of the tale in The Wanderer, well, this is the whole point . . . as you will discover, time and time again, one eternal round.

View all my reviews


  1. Interesting, is the prosework difficult to barge into or is it quite easy to digest? Will it be like House of Leaves level stuff?