Saturday, 26 June 2010


Every now and a seldom, I get a real bee in my Tam o' Shanter about a book or a writer (or a book and a writer), deserving of much greater exposure, critical acclaim and recognition and a vastly wider readership than a small house like BeWrite Books can hope to achieve -- no matter how hard we try.

One such author is Michael McIrvin, one such book is his The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time.

I saw Michael's modest submission early last year and was enthralled. I read the full manuscript and was captivated. I worked with Michael for several months and was awed. What a joy of a job it was to team with such a master of the word, of story telling, of poetry. Now that the book is published, I'm humbled that he thought BB worthy of such a trophy.

This ain't a sales pitch, people: you know me better than that. It's just a private note to those few reading and writing pals who visit this wee blog and realise that it's mostly about swapping opinion and not about cold promotion. Michael's book is profound. It is not an easy read. It demands undivided attention. I've read it over a dozen times and am still learning.

So let me leave it to reviewers to give you their non-partisan impressions. There are many. Below are just a three that caught my eye, and from reviewers I felt had been touched as deeply as I have been by this superlative work.

This from the popular, influential and ultra-selective review site:

***The tension between presence and absence (the dead sister’s but also humanity’s, the death of the individual and civilizations big thematic aspects of this novel) becomes palpable here in the tension between sound and silence, belief and non-belief, joy and longing, grief and ecstasy.***

Reviewed by Dan Larson

The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time
by Michael McIrvin
Bewrite Books
Paperback, 237 pages, $13.36 USD, ISBN: 978-1-906609-34-4.
Ebok (all formats) $5.99 USD, ISBN-978-1-906609-35-1

So, I am reading along in this excellent, albeit quite different, noir thriller about a former CIA agent who is being forcibly recruited by other former agents into a freelance enterprise because of certain experiences he had in Mexico and Central America in his agency days. I am reading along, entranced by the story and wishing I had written some of the incredible language McIrvin uses, when I come upon the main character’s description of the interior of a church, which stops me cold, literally shivering.

The main character is telling one twin sister about following the other sister, recently murdered by the men drafting the main character to do bad things, to church. The sister he is telling this tale to does not believe him: “Justine didn’t go to no church, Sonny… You know how she was with that soci-Oh-logical stuff, always explaining the world, and without help from no Jesus… I appreciate you want to comfort me Sonny, but you can’t make this up, not this.”

Sonny insists that Justine came out with the choir. He says, she “let loose a gut-wrenching tremolo like I had heard on my one mission to the Middle East, a cosmically orgasmic yodel that echoed in the rafters…” He describes that tremolo as an act of mourning mixed with ecstasy and Justine’s version as “this sound-to-get-God’s-attention.” And then he tells her sister that Justine stopped her strange warbling, and ...

 …the quiet after that storm of sound was pristine, as clean as the first day of creation maybe, not a cough, not a sniffle, not a sigh, as if there wasn’t a human being in the place, not a human being on earth, as if Justine’s wail had exploded us all like fine glass. Then Justine sang Amazing Grace, a song I remembered from my childhood. A song I never heard before Justine sang it in that clarity of being she had given everyone in the church at that minute, and the choir hummed along and swayed in the background, and I could see several people in the congregation weeping for what they are, an enormous joy shot through with a terrible longing.

The tension between presence and absence (the dead sister’s but also humanity’s, the death of the individual and civilizations big thematic aspects of this novel) becomes palpable here in the tension between sound and silence, belief and non-belief, joy and longing, grief and ecstasy. The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time makes much of such moments of juxtaposition: the filthy unnamed rustbelt town where the action starts made deceptively clean by a snowstorm and representative of a world without humans to defile it, the affluence of the supposed boss of the freelance operation living in a mansion above the brown cloud of Mexico City and the terrible poverty underneath it, an innocent Mayan child who is wise beyond his years but also an assassin in training, and many more.

The effect of such a strategy is powerful all by itself, a move to make the reader feel off balance even as he is pummeled by images of mayhem. But when you add the muscular poetry used to describe this dark world, which is our own world, the discomfort rises exponentially: a dying man “feels the enormous dragon of panic rise to look him in the eye and then subside”; the leader of the freelance agents “laments like the Professor Emeritus of Death” as he names the courses offered at the School of the Americas when he was there, a course list that is both macabre and funny and results in a kind of found poem of the bleakest dimensions imaginable; and the heat in Mexico is described as having teeth…of vernacular steel. The heat is unremitting and remorseless and a thousand other multi-syllabic descriptors… Mexicans know the heat is a god, unambivalent and voluptuous as the universe compacted to fit the street you walk, the road you drive like a zombie because your blood is congealed syrup and your brain weighs several slow tons, and they do not speak of the heat for fear it will grow angry and set the world alight one last time, cook us all like chickens in a pot.

The tone is unambiguously noir, of course, and the storyline is top-shelf thriller, filled with intrigue and various plots and misdirection (although there are characters here you will not find in any book of the type that I am aware of). But it is these moments of harsh poetry that make the book a truly memorable read. I was stopped cold several times, left humming, maybe roaring, like the jet engine to which McIrvin compares the sound the choir made as Justine stepped forward to “get God’s attention.” I had to reread such passages, sometimes over and over. Not because I missed something but because the words resonate in the brain:

The bats are quick shadows against the stars that explode above us, a second’s respite only in a world of murder and torture, flaming corpses and men and women and children gone forcibly blue in the face, of ancient trees stolen and other debauchery only a demon could invent – God laughing at his own joke.

Such excellent writing is rare in any work of fiction these days, let alone one advertised as a thriller, noir or otherwise. I highly recommend The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time, and not just to those who seek out high-tension fiction but to anyone who appreciates the extraordinary use of words no matter the context.

Dan Larson

 What an extraordinary book! I read The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time at the suggestion of a friend who belongs to a reading group called the Noir Mongers (they meet at a bar every Tuesday, which indicates much about their sensibilities). Bill told me the Mongers were blown away by this noir thriller, but he said, he and his fellow hard-drinking readers were hard-pressed for words to equal the experience. He wanted a literary type like me to explain the book to them as succinctly as possible, but I am not sure I could explain this excellent novel sufficiently if I filled volumes.

It is not that McIrvin's story is difficult to follow, and in fact, the plot is just complex enough to be damned interesting: the main character is a former CIA agent forcibly drafted by other former CIA agents to do a terrible job in Mexico, and he wants revenge for a murdered lover but must do what these guys want or another lover will be killed.

And the novel does indeed have all the characteristics of a great noir thriller: a first-person narrator whose guilt is obvious and whose shifting state of mind is central to the tale, whose role moves from victimizer to victim to avenger (to something far more in this case); a question of identity (actually, several such questions); suspense arising from the protagonist's involvement in menacing events; an environment of fear and anxiety, of degraded values in which right and wrong become interchangeable; socio-political critique; and so on. But this novel steps far beyond these characteristics too, or rather, dives into them so deep that the book transcends easy classification or succinct discussion.

Much good noir fiction is merely an echo of old Roman revenge plays, of course, and in fact, the main character, Sonny, mentions the works of Seneca at one point and declares himself "all bloody purpose. Malevolent intent incarnate." However, the very best noir achieves the level of Greek tragedy, becoming as much about destiny and the social order as it is about vengeance. The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time is definitely in this category but a very modern version.

For example, the issue of Sonny's identity is symbolized by the fact that this is not his real name, and in fact his real name is never revealed. He simply settled on this identity as part of his attempt to start over after his stint as a CIA agent, and he seems to be trying to live down to the expectations that come with it. But the bigger question of identity is represented by his code name in his agency days: Blue. Sonny heard an array of associations in the name, in fact our collective romanticized idea of America itself in its many implications, but he discovered his employers heard something else entirely, something bleak and menacing.

The reader's first hint this book has bigger aspirations than typical noir is Sonny's notion that he completely bought into the specifically American archetype of the hero (as gunslinger, as patriot), and hence his idealized notion of his code name. But when he became one version of an American hero, an agent in the service of U.S. nationalism, he discovered the truth: that identity generally is at best an ever-shifting class marker and at worst an illusion, that "hero" is another word for killer, torturer, and destroyer of cultures (yea, big themes, and they come up within the first 30 pages).

Likewise, Sonny's guilt is not just an excuse for mayhem. He never once tries to avoid responsibility for his bloody acts, and in fact he carries his guilt like a penitent if not a martyr. At one point, when someone he loves is murdered merely to get his attention, he says like a mantra, "My fault, my fault, my fault." His guilt is complex too, first a question of destiny and then of socio-political exigency and propaganda, but ultimately we are all implicated in the bloody process of history, which makes this book one of the more extraordinarily grim noir literary novels ever written - and that is saying something given the many harsh additions to the category in recent years (think David Peace). To make discussion even more difficult, this tale is told in a language that is at once disconcertingly poetic and uncompromisingly realistic. Imagine Heart of Darkness as run through Blood Meridian as if told by Don Delillo channeling Ray Chandler channeling Sartre.

And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It is no wonder my friend and the other beer-swilling Noir Mongers were nonplussed. Sonny is part tragic hero and part existential antihero and part symbolic everyman laboring under the delusions foisted upon him by his culture, and his quest is into a heart of darkness that is Western Civilization itself. In a word, the questions this book raises are enormous, and then, the author provides frightening answers to those questions (for example, the boy named Hurricane is, by turns, funny in a macabre way and more darkly symbolic than any character in recent literature).

All while entertaining the hell out of anyone who has the courage to read great literature that is also a morality tale for our age, and which is also a great noir thriller that is maybe best enjoyed with a beer in one hand.

I repeat, The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time is an incredible novel. I am about to read it again, and then I am going to call Bill.

Dylan Neal

I just finished reading The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time, and I am deeply impressed. This novel from tiny and obscure BeWrite Books, this epitaph for a culture of banal consumerism, culturally sanctioned greed and deliberate self-insulation from the darkest forms of violence and destruction, deserves a prominent place in contemporary American literature. Michael McIrvin has created a place so jaded and dark that even the tiniest flicker of light is almost blinding in its revelations. And he does it with an enviable mastery of language. The most frightening thing about this fable is that in its heart of darkness lies a reality that plays itself out in the lives of real people, right now, in many parts of the world. The beauty of the book is in its crafting. The story compels you briskly forward and yet, along the way are turns of phrase and insight that stop you in your tracks.

John W. Schouten

Now, I don't want to cheapen this excellent book by making it the prize in some competition with the answer to a daft question. But I do want it to be read and, if possible, futher reviewed: So the first treebook reader to simply email me gets a paperback copy, the first two ebook readers to email me get a free download in their format of choice.

You can read about Michael McIrvin and The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time by checking out our bookstore. There's also an extract available there.

For those interested, print is by Lightning Source in the UK and US, cover and text design (and digital preparation) is by Tony Szmuk, and I was nominal editor ... I say 'nominal' because my job was largely just to sit back and watch Michael himself get it right.

Cheers and best wishes. Neil

No comments:

Post a Comment