What do we do with the things we cannot forget? How are we to move beyond what to us feels unforgivable?
What happens when someone appears one day that threatens to undo our fragile peace?
So are the questions at the heart of These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker.
I read this book over the summer and simply could not put it down. I appreciate Shawn’s way of saying things. His strength is in his characters and the consequences of their decisions. I often forget I am “reading” his book and not part of the story. I feel the scenes with the characters, experience their joy and pain.
Things harks back to Dante’s Inferno and is an excellent parallel of the hero’s journey. It asks us to consider how far we would go to save those we love, and how well do we know what ties bind us?
Dan lives in a diminishing town at the base of a terrible mountain. The book opens with the last residences fleeing their homes. We know Dan has done something regrettable. The rest of the novel fills in what that is.
The people of the town have all escaped the mountain whose shadow they live under. They all remain for one reason or another. While they have all survived an ordeal, and therefore have a connection based on their trauma, they live guarded, private lives.
A woman stumbles out of the mountain and into Dan’s life. From the moment she arrives things start to fracture. Dan is pulled further into his guilt of leaving his brother in the mountain. That is why he stays and, as Dan will come to see, the others remain for their own unresolved reasons.
The book is haunting in a way. It is not easy or light. But it is deliberate. That is Shawn’s strength as a writer – nothing is his books is there by chance. He has this uncanny ability to look at who we are as people honestly. His characters are real, flawed, challenged and yet not in the cliche, trite way that populates so much other fiction.
You can buy These Nameless Things here (note, it’s an affiliate link)
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