Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus
I give up on this novel twice: the first time because I didn’t think a novel beginning with a man masturbating to an image of an Audrey Hepburn lookalike was for me; the second time, further in, because, gripped as I was, I was finding it too disturbing. But the blandness of the novel I’d picked up as respite (not the other one reviewed here) soon had me heading back to Epiphany Jones begging for more.
Addressing themes of mental health, sex trafficking and the emptiness of Hollywood, this is a page turning thriller with genuine psychological and sociopolitical depth and a wide emotional range through humour, pathos, shock and horror. While one can never be sure how closely fiction mirrors real life, the author, with a degree in filmmaking and years spent researching sex trafficking, has the right credentials to tackle these complex and disturbing subjects. Published a year ago now, and reminiscent of the Pulitzer prize winning The Orphan Master’s Son, I can only wish I’d read it earlier.
If the plot seems to creak ever so slightly in places, it’s just the sound of another piece of the jigsaw being transferred to a more intriguing place. In the end, everything fits: character, back story, setting and incidentals building an outstanding debut novel. Thanks to Orenda books for my review copy.
Me, Myself and Them by Dan Mooney
Everything’s hunky-dory until his former girlfriend, Rebecca, arrives back in town. Before he knows it, she’s got him going out to restaurants, tolerating touching and even having a dance. His housemates warn him nothing good will come of it, but at least they have the grace to hide away when she moves in. Yet, as Denis becomes more human, they pile on the pressure, determined to drive her away.
Like the figurines in The Zoo by Jamie Mollart, Denis’ monstrous housemates are, of course, projections of his own mind. They help distance him from thoughts and feelings that might otherwise overwhelm him given his sense of responsibility for the tragedy that’s befallen his sister and another friend. What others might term obsessive-compulsive disorder, Denis considers an alternative lifestyle, freely chosen, not acknowledging what he’s lost in maintaining an illusory control.
Dan Mooney’s debut is published by Legend Press, who provided my proof copy. While neither the style nor the story got me particularly excited, it’s great to see men’s mental health addressed in accessible fiction, and others without much background knowledge might warm to it more.