Communion Town, Sam Thomson, 2012, Bloomsbury
Scroll below for my review of Communion Town. Overall, good technique, but the author’s Greco-Roman sensibilities and desire to create a “timeless” city fall flat….
No doubt Sam Thompson is a great craftsman — he gives litte gems of narrative gymnastics, here and there, but the city he attempts to portray from 10 different angles fails to come together. He keeps the city anonymous, only dropping a few hints that this may be Greko-Roman harbor city (“the Nordic look that,it was already obvious, made her conspicuous here.”), a gritty, crime and corruption ridden, repressed by fear, and despotically ruled place. He keeps a wide time frame pre-information technology 20th or late 19th century. This vagueness gives may make it “timeless” but it makes it difficult for the reader to make the connections and fill in the gaps and figure what is and what is not possible in this fictional city.
Each storiy has a good set up, nice character developments, but a lot of promising and interesting story premises dry out to a trickle by the end. Perhaps some of the better stories should have been developed into separate short novels. Chapter VII, The Significant City of Lazarus, has by far the best plot development and full cast of characters and an intriguing premise. Here is Lazarus’ denial of his insantity:
“True, I have gone beyond the flimsy presence you call sanity, with its timid distinctions between what is real and what is imaginary. But never mistake me for some sad solipsist, locked up in my own skull. I am precisely the opposite: my mind is so distributed across the city that, for me, there is no difference between a thought and an action.”
Chapter V, Good Slaughter, has fine narrative details which gives it a lot of weight. Here is the slaughterer’s description of his job that he is so proud of “My task came next: I used a sharp knife to sever the carotid and the jugular, resulting in exsanguination. With the proroper expertise the animal was gone in three heartbeats, beyond unhappiness. I euthanised one every twenty seconds and it as an inflexible point with me that none suffered it its time on the killing floor.”
Some of the stories talk about newcomers, immigrants, especially in the first chapter, Communion Town, but that theme never fully develops. At the end, nothing stays with us about this city. These 10 stories may as well be happening in 10 different unhappy towns.