Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vintage Review: The Great Lenore by JM Tohline 6/29/11

JM Tohline opens The Great Lenore with a dedication: “Dear Reader, Take this book and fly.

An auspicious opening, but one setting the bar high for the writer. So the question is, does Lenore have wings?

The characters of The Great Lenore are an ensemble thrown together largely by chance, and book surrounds the wave one young woman’s existence casts on the seemingly calm surface of their lives. All who meet Lenore love her. All who meet Lenore are changed by her.

From the point of view of Richard, a successful writer trying to start his second novel, Tohline leads down a trail populated by withered souls, copious amounts of alcohol, and the fickle depths of money, love and pain. We are presented with the conflicting truths of life, and watch as they crash against each other, indifferent to the bruises left behind.

This book drips with twists, littering the roadway with broken hearts and misplaced dreams. It is about how much influence luck has on our lives, the strange paths we find ourselves on, even when we never intended to leave the well-traveled one. Characters make tiny mistakes, with huge consequences. It is a study in frustration tinged with irony.

Tohline nods to his forebears in his prose and his themes, but his characters are his own. He knows them, and portrays them to the reader with grace. His characters struggle through their emotions, fighting to survive them when they are too far-gone to be concerned with what is right.

What I admire most about Tohline’s style, something I didn’t expect, was the sense of suspension. Not only does one become lost in the plot and characters, one becomes caught in the pause. The hesitation of a breath. The ticking of a clock. You linger in the silence between words, caught and held, savoring the moment. At one point, Richard says, “In general, I am a connoisseur of silence: I seek it out and enjoy it, and in social settings I use it to my advantage.” Like his narrator, Tohline uses silence and its fellows to great effect. It is a rare trait, and one I watch for in a writer.

Lenore lingers. Days after reading it, Lenore creeps into my thoughts. A mystery surrounds her, one that is never fully resolved. Lenore, for all her remarkable qualities, remains an undefined factor in the universe, her personal truths shrouded in the aura of her presence. Despite (or because of) her obscurity, she fascinates me.

So does The Great Lenore have wings?

Yes. And she flies.

This book is a wonderful introduction to JM Tohline. I will be watching for his next work.