An inventive, ambitious story that seeks to explain both recent history and why one man, Daniel Never, can remember fighting with Andrew Jackson but not what happened to him yesterday.
Brandsdorfer’s debut bounces between centuries in a universe unhitched from time. First, it follows Never in the present, as he wakes up in a hospital with a severe head injury. Then, in the past, he meets up with the Quiet Man, a surreal figure who borrows soldiers from Andrew Jackson’s command for a mission to seek treasure. Never, a sharpshooter in his 19th-century past, joins up for food and the promise of a good horse and rifle. That mission turns tragic, though, and the “treasure” is not what the Quiet Man had promised. The brilliant structure keeps up the momentum of two stories at once, until they merge with the Quiet Man and Never in the present tense, both down on their luck and wounded in their own way. Their intertwined pasts also tell the history of man and myths, and what happens when man outgrows the latter. In Brandsdorfer’s timeline, angels cleared away demons and beasts to allow man to conquer the Earth. The angels change history, but they also share some of man’s frailties, as the Quiet Man discovers. The story is big, but Brandsdorfer has an impressive touch with smaller moments, like a character walking through the snow or watching an old TV show. Sometimes, though, he reaches for the poetic in his prose and comes up with a clunker—a cruise ship “lumbered motionlessly,” Jackson is “obvious, tall and thin with a matching face dressed, as was often the case, in a serious expression”). But when he’s on target, Brandsdorfer has a knack for capturing the looks, sounds and feel of his environments. He also has a great sense for the creepy and supernatural, à la Lovecraft, especially in the climactic scenes of the mission, which are surreal and menacing. The story stalls in the second act, as Never and the Quiet Man devolve into drunkenness, and some of the historical back story feels like a diversion, but these are minor faults for a writer who’s more on than off.
Wild imagination in a promising debut.