Friday, 22 October 2021

Book review: Our Trespasses, Michael Cordell (2021)

I don’t usually put book reviews on the blog anymore – see Patreon for reviews – but I was contacted by a literary agent seeking help with a new book from a small publisher, so altered my usual policy for a change. love doing reviews so much I’ll do them for nothing if I think it’ll be interesting. The following is the full review and it’s free of access to anyone who sees entertainment pending.  Here’s the author’s website. 

I felt a bit like ‘Dr Who’ had been in operation on the author’s imagination. Though you won’t see the ending coming the plot devices are flat and primary-coloured while the characters are delicately shaded and perfectly formed. A paranormal science fiction novel isn’t what I was expecting and Cixin Liu is the sci-fi writer who came to mind by the time Skiz appeared in my reading of ‘Our Trespasses’. Skiz is finely wrought and embodies menace, like many of the people Matthew Davis meets in Nebraska. 

While the plot isn’t the only thing that keeps the reader intrigued and the pages turning, without careful delineation of character it’d all be a bit overwhelming, though at the outset the novel resembles one of those science fiction movies where things are too normal for comfort and you wonder where’s the catch that’s going to have you scanning hungrily to the end of each successive page. 

I’ve never read a book about twins before – or at least I don’t remember doing so – though I have a second cousin and his sister who’re twins. Their aunts are twins and I know the family by association but don’t have much contact with them nowadays. Matthew is close to me because of our names but also due to an arrangement that sufficed for meals in the family home when I was a child, in my case my mother sitting on my right and my father on my left. Us brothers sat across from each other.

Though my brother is two years older than me and is not someone who needs to be forgiven for anything that has happened in his long life. 

When Matthew goes back to Nebraska for family reasons events seem to catch up with him. Ten years earlier he left to work in New York and had pretty much lost contact with the legacy of family and friends, so when he arrives in Hatchett in a rental car in the middle of summer he refreshes contact with a number of people from his troubled past. 

Then there’s the matter of unaccountable events that remind him of Jake, his brother. You soon find yourself trying to guess where Cordell is taking you in this uncanny story of sudden agonies and stray static, physical manifestations of the white noise of blood connection. Each concrete vignette is quick upon the heels of the one coming before, the characters you encounter forcing you to confront something urgent about modern America – the urban-rural divide, drug crime, violence, guns –, while a deeper narrative thread tied to the issue of religion – which is a cultural artefact that sits closer to the surface in America than it does in my country, at least for the majority – taunts the reader with ideas of eternity and of grace. 

The title links, obviously, to the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, a very old literary formulation that for centuries has helped people focus their minds on what’s important in life. For Matthew, what’s important is finding a clue that will free him from his brother’s torment. This is linked to his very own survival, though death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you in Cordell’s universe. In the US, where my brother lives, politics must’ve become very fraught to spawn a novel like this.

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