I'm not usually a big fan of experimental fiction. I'm old-fashioned that way. To me, the traditional story structure works so well, I don't often see a good reason to monkey with it. I understand that some storytellers are compelled to work that way because they feel too constricted by conventional methods and that is, of course, their prerogative. If you're writing a particular way because that's the best way to serve your story, I'm fine with that. But when an author is simply trying to show off some new tricks, whether those tricks are appropriate for the story or not, it’s obvious and it loses me. It's like filmmakers who use CGI to blow up a car when they could just, you know, blow up a car. It takes me right out of whatever story they are trying to tell.
The first few pages of Eric A. Jackson's A Blind Eye to the Rearview told me a couple of things: one, Jackson was not using a conventional storytelling style; and two, this was not a case of someone simply showing off. Maybe this wasn't the only route he could've taken to tell this story, but it certainly seems to have been the best possible choice.
Jebediah Crane is a troubled young man in a disorienting situation: he's been given an anonymous note ordering him to kill his father within the next 24 hours. Jeb might not have a problem with that, seeing as how Charles Nelson Crane tore Jed's eye out with a golf tee when the boy was only six years old, but there's one issue Jeb can't get past - his father has been dead for 15 years.
As Jeb tries to unravel who gave him the note, his life takes a turn for the surreal. He begins having conversations with a voice in his head, a voice that may or may not be his own. A sister he never had blinks in and out of existence; sometimes she's a little girl, sometimes a young woman. He's reunited with a long-ago girlfriend, but he seems to have traveled back in time to do so, and when things take a violent turn between them his present-day existence branches into alternate realities, with Jeb rapidly losing the ability to tell what's real and what's all in his mind.
Jackson walks a tightrope here with remarkable ease - he's able to keep the readers as off-balance as poor Jeb without making the story too incomprehensible to follow. Yes, we're as lost as Jeb is many times during the book, but it's the kind of lost that makes you turn the page rather than the kind that makes you fling the book down in disgust. This kind of stream-of-conscious storytelling is difficult to pull off, but Jackson does it here with relative ease.
This is a book that requires concentrated reading, not something to skim while keeping one eye on the television. Those that take the time to delve in will find a book that’s full of twists and turns, family drama, suspense, and a healthy dose of black humor to enjoy. I’m glad I ignored my usual misgivings about experimental storytelling to give this one a shot, and I recommend you do the same.
Order A Blind Eye to the Rearview by Eric A. Jackson (Abattoir Press)
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.