Read 7/4/13 - 7/6/13
4 Stars - Highly recommended to fans of modern gothic literature and fuckeduppery
Publisher: Atticus Book
I cracked open The Great Lenore two days ago (which I've been holding on to ever since I met its author JM Tohline at AWP in March) in anticipation of its upcoming Author/Reader discussion in August, and despite my usual dislike of gothic, faux memoir-ish, tragic literature, I found myself instantly intrigued by Tohline's teasing narrative. He pulls you in, he pushes you away, he hints at things and cleverly sidesteps them time and time again until he's ready to reveal it all. And all the while, he's got you tied to the end of a set of marionette strings, helpless in his hands, following the tugs and tickles of his fingers, eyes dancing across the pages, unable to stop until you reach The End.
I admit that, initially, this was a difficult book for me to read. The timing was uncanny. Very early in, I found myself closing the book and walking away from it, unsure if I wanted to continue. Because I was pretty sure that, up to this point in my life, I'd had just about all the infidelity I could handle...
If you don't know anything about this book, you should know this: Infidelity plays a large role in this tale of love, loss, and deep, dark secrets. Not that infidelity in and of itself is by any means a new plot concept. But I'm sick of how accepted and common it is, in all aspects of media - listen to the lyrics of a song and you're bound to hear about how the singer has cheated or was cheated on; watch any movie, good god, any HBO or Showtime series, even if it's not the driving force of the show, and you're almost guaranteed to see characters cheat on one another, sometimes with one another. And it's not just media, is it? It's all around us. How many of us have cheated on our spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, discovered that we've been cheated on, or know someone close to us who has? And how many of us just sit by and let it all happen, know about it and never say anything, hide it and feel guilty about it? Jesus, it's everywhere you turn; and once you're aware of it, you can't seem to escape it. And I was pretty sure that I didn't want to immerse myself in literature that hinged so heavily on it right now.
But as I mentioned, Tohline hooks you, and once hooked, it's pointless to struggle, impossible to walk away. It just keeps pulling you back in.
So I gave in, and gave up, and gave my mind over to our narrator Richard, who is telling the tale of how he ended up so severely entwined in the ridiculously destructive love quadrangle between Montana brothers Chas and Maxwell, Jez - a close friend of the family, Chas's wife Lenore, and Chas's girlfriend-on-the-side Lily.
Much like those horribly dated TV soap operas that I refuse to burn brain cells on, and reminiscent of the dark and dreary classic Victorian Gothic novels that I somehow managed to eye-roll myself through, we are drenched in this family's who-is-fucking-who and who-fucked-them-first and how-can-anyone-not-know-who-is-plotting-what-with-who fucked-uppery. And oh yeah, there's Lenore's death, that is actually a non-death (and no, I'm not spoiling anything for you, because this is the hook that the author sinks into your skin upon reading the very first line!) that causes all of the family's secrets to come rushing to the surface like an overflowing toilet...
Lenore; she who all men are helpless against, the spider who weaves her web around each and every one of their hearts, the muse, the innocent angel, the devious devil, the true marionette master... Lenore.
Go on and give it a read. If for no other reason than to join in on our discussion with the author this coming August - cause there is a whole lot that's worthy of discussion here; if for no other reason than to see why I can review it so wearily and yet still give such a wonderful rating. It's a novel that's bound to toy with you. And you will like it. I guarantee it.