In this debut novel, a lonely man, dissatisfied with his comfortable but ultimately shallow lifestyle, starts an intensely introspective diary after experiencing a life-altering shock to his consciousness.
It isn’t often that the doors of perception swing open widely enough for the average Joe to saunter through and confront the ultimate nature of reality. But when the protagonist of this finely crafted meditation on the profound is allowed a glimpse of the other side, he knows that his life will never be the same again. Much of this protracted soliloquy is concerned with how he attempts to bridge the divide between his humdrum existence and the truly extraordinary world he’s spied beyond the veil. He writes, “I have at least two viewpoints now: One is my old life and everything connected with it—a life in which everything was clearly defined, if not preordained—and there is this other life that dawned on me next to the ocean that day.” The solo nature of his exploration remains intact throughout, except for three conversations with his sensitive but practical mother; an antagonistic co-worker; and a sort of gentleman guru. The author uses the novel’s diary construction as a literary device to discuss Eastern/New Age notions about reality. There’s little in the way of a conventional plot, other than that the narrator encounters a mysterious woman early on and anticipates meeting her once again. Some of the most intriguing concepts the author examines are that eternity is real, time is a construction, and that the normal function of the human brain intermittently interrupts the ongoing flow. As the narrator contemplates these truths, he has alternating feelings of horror and happiness. Smith’s highly descriptive language (“I see people crowding in front of the glittering shop windows….I move from one shop window to the next, and everywhere I see the same moving bodies and their inaudibly murmuring lips”) manages to convey both emotional states with equal alacrity and weight.
A slim novel packed with plenty of wonder and genuine moments of awe.