Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review of Willnot by James Sallis (No Exit Press, 2016)

Hale is a doctor in the small town of Wilnott, the son of a successful science fiction writer.  He occasionally sees the world through the eyes of other.  Bobby Lowndes has returned to the town after some time in the Marines.  Both have spent time in comas before emerging to continue their lives.  A handful of rotted bodies are found in a pit.  Someone is taking sniper shots.  An FBI agent arrives, asking questions about Lowndes.  Time drifts by, Hale treating a range of town folk, Lowndes hiding out in the woods.  Strange happenings continue to occur, unsettling the usual rhythm of Willnot.

Willnot is somewhat of a curious read.  It traces the unfolding of some events – the discovery of some buried bodies, the arrival of an awol marine followed by a FBI agent, some sniper shots, and the ailments of town folk – through the eyes of Hale, a small town doctor.  Unlike most crime fiction that has strong story arc driven by an investigation to solve a mystery, in typical Sallis style the narrative drifts along to provide a more metaphysical tale about the meaning of life in small town America.  As such the story is more reflexive and philosophical, concerning itself with the mundane moments and mini-dramas in how life takes place.  The tale almost has a mystical quality, as if Hales is living out moments from his father’s science fiction novels.  The result is a thoughtful literary read that doesn’t seem to make much progress and has little in the way of denouement, but nonetheless is entrancing in its own, meandering way.

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