Published in 2011 by Jason McIntyre.
“The wash turned from yellow to a concentrated orange, one that screamed inside his head. He screamed too, at least he tried to. It came out of the base of his throat more like a stifled call in a windstorm with gravel and dust kicking at the words. It was the staggered, helpless plea of a man who did not know what was going to happen to him, and it ended in a gagging, choking sound as pressure from the stranger’s hands intensified.”
Sebastion Redfield is terrified. If you were embroiled in the precarious circumstances that surround him at the novel’s inception, you would be, too. Ensconced in the quiet lull of a neighbourhood defined by its lack of fanfare, at rest in his parents’ house (in which neither of his parents reside, any longer, for reasons both distinct and conjoined), Sebastion’s equanimity is shattered by the intrusion of a stranger who wants to steal something far more precious than the good china. In the aftermath of the attack, Sebastion aligns himself with the unlikely company of the psychiatrist assigned to his case, Malin Holmsund, in an effort to piece together the shreds of what they know about his assailant. While struggling to connect the identity dots of his mystery marauder, our protagonist learns in startling increments of just how much he stands to lose…and of just how little he can afford to stay still.
I’d wager that Sebastion, or Zeb, which he prefers, isn’t quite like any other leading literary man I’ve read, which I count as a reinforcing strength of this work. Even (or especially) among his peers, he both suffers and benefits from perceiving the world through a synaesthete’s eyes. His sensory and colour-coded interpretation of his natural environment makes for illuminating, oft-revealing reading. As we consider shapes and scenarios in shades and hues through Zeb’s visage, we are often called on to realign our paradigms for basic sight. A man on the cusp of maturity, we witness Zeb’s formation as he grows, through the author’s use of well-placed flashbacks. Nothing Zeb does or says in his journey towards self-preservation and self-discovery feels off-kilter, perhaps because we have been allowed to take the mark of him at every significant stage of his being. The impression of a life fully formed is what remains, once the last page of the novel has been turned. We feel that we have lived with our leading man, observing the peculiar palette that has been his life up until that very moment, and our reading is all the richer for the sense of this credible roundedness.
McIntyre’s other characters, those who are both pivotal and secondary to the successful engineering of the novel, are laudably represented. Not one of them is delivered gracelessly; not one is packaged without attention to detail. If you find yourself feeling tender stirrings of sympathy for someone in these pages who ought, logically, to defy them, be not alarmed. Villainous hearts are susceptible to tenderness and contrition. Quietly submissive souls spark forth in episodes of rage. Reading Thalo Blue is a timely reminder of the complexity of even those dramatis personae whom we’d like to easily slot into pre-ordered roles.
Good writing does not necessarily a good novel make, but Jason McIntyre is a good writer. When we read, we allow the author an unshakeable level of dominion over our senses—if the writer does his work well, we won’t want to be shaken. It took me no more than a handful of chapters to feel confident that I was in no danger of decrying foul fiction, and knowing this holds its own kind of quiet reassurance. What I loved best about McIntyre’s prose were moments when it lent itself to a sage series of omniscient narrative contemplations, such as this one, in which Zeb has an illuminating early conversation with his lover, Caeli.
“They talked about bigger things mostly, things beyond themselves but instead within the scope of the world at large. And amongst those monstrous topics, they talked about the little things, like the skin on the tops of their coffees, and the sound the soles of their shoes made on gravel as they walked. The hours were consumed.”
Anyone who’s traded silence for the earnestly raging river of this brand of discussion will instantly nod with acknowledgement, and appreciation of the skill with which it’s transcribed. I paused the longest to think of the following offering, which, in the interest of maintaining intrigue, may or may not be about Caeli, too.
“Friends and lovers speak in tongues. They use a language that no one else knows, one that they have invented for themselves only. It’s a secret handshake that either lives forever–or dies, carried off when one of its creators leaves for good.”
In the margins of my notebook, there’s a scribbled thought about this, written moments after I read those lines for the first time. “I know this,” it says. “I’ve lived it. I’ve been the one to take the language away, and I’ve had it taken from me, too.”
I do not suggest that all of McIntyre’s prose moved me equally, but it would be injurious to a writer, I think, if you demanded that each of their lines made you weep at its beauty. Some of the expository paragraphs hold a certain staid predictability, and some of the dialogue, particularly the interchanges surrounding criminal investigations, gave me, I confess, less pleasurable pause. Nonetheless, the overall effect is one of respectable, considered writing, and there is nothing to lament, stylistically speaking.
Opponents of a non-linear plot construction will find Thalo Blue nauseating. As a proponent of experimentation in all areas of literary craft, I was pleased to entangle myself in the meandering, converging threads of Zeb’s life. The reader will find herself thrust a decade backwards, sitting with Zeb and his father on the latter’s sickbed, yanked to the cosily clandestine scene of quite a different boudoir that Zeb shares with Caeli, pushed through the swinging doors on an ice-slicked collision. If the deciphering of which events fit where, and how, makes one tetchy, then I propose more careful reading. The ways in which the novel proceeds will reward a sensitive reader, and stymie one accustomed to a ‘colour by numbers’ approach to their fiction.
This novel earns its chops based on a neat list of accomplishments. Principal among these is its sophisticated residence in a genre of writing about which I am typically leery. Its discernible nicks in an otherwise glowing patina are happily worth the price of admission. A suspense thriller edged with nuances of psychological investigation, Thalo Blue is as much an examination of human behaviour beneath pressure as it is a bildungsroman with bite. If reading it prompts you to search out more of McIntyre’s work, then we’re in the same synaesthete’s landscape of brightly-hued anticipation.
Details on Jason McIntyre’s publications, including Thalo Blue, as well as direct purchase links are accessible from his Amazon.com author page, here. You can also peruse his personal website, The Farthest Reaches, here, where there are links to his Twitter and Facebook pages.
A free electronic copy of this novel was provided by Jason McIntyre for review. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own, and are not influenced by his generous gift of gratuitous literature.