I wanted to vlog today but the weather happened. From sixty degrees to freezing in a matter of days, we’ve got an official snow day here in North Texas. Well, “inclement weather” day. Snow is uncommon. A thing of myth and legend.
How might weather stop me from Vlogging you ask?
There are people here.
Like, people all up in my space. True, I own a house that in other parts of the world would probably fit multiple families comfortably (This is Texas. Everything is bigger in Texas except housing costs). But the fact remains: I have a live studio audience.
Yes, I vlogged before and then uploaded myself to be viewed by the masses without any sort of problem. I am aware that this makes no sense.
So instead, let me draw your attention to the latest self-pub novel I’ve had the pleasure to read: The Commons by Michael Alan Peck.
The Commons is difficult to categorize. On Amazon it is classified as Urban Fantasy and even YA. Mr. Peck’s reasoning behind the choices is sound, but The Commons is so much more. The Matrix as written by Dante might give the reader a starting point. There are no cantos – the writing is smooth and prose fluid – but that classic idea of a journey through the afterlife forms the centerpiece of Peck’s work.
Regardless what it may or may not be, this is a five star book.
Paul, a troubled young man who has drifted between street life and foster homes, is struggling to find his way. He’s found a refuge in the “New Beginnings” group home but he can’t quite let go of his past. He has unfinished business with his lost family and when he sets out on his journey, he has no idea exactly how far he’ll need to go to find them.
His search takes him to a place somewhere between life and death. An Orphean descent into an underworld littered with rest stops, diners, and mythical beings. A place where reality conforms to the personal experiences of the traveller but, in truth, is endangered by a voracious evil that seeks even greater control.
The Commons is another work of fiction that sets a bar self-publishers should strive to reach. And despite that, I can see exactly why this book might have been out of place in the traditional publishing world.
The story starts off quietly enough that you get the feeling this is not the work of genre fiction it claims to be. We meet interesting, detailed characters long before we know exactly what mystical elements may be at play. As events unfold, we aren’t given a road map. The reader is allowed to puzzle these things out on their own. By the end, we reach an almost cliche moment, but any doubt is dispelled by the expert setup which tells us this is not, in fact, your typical ending. It is another stop along the journey.
Peck allows himself to explore real characters inside the genre trappings. Strongest are a wounded combat vet, Annie, and her profoundly autistic son, Zach. At first on the edges of Paul’s journey and then inextricably intertwined, these characters undergo a full transformation of their own. They are given depth through close POV sections which several other characters benefit from as well. The only complaint may be the lack of development in some of the other supporting cast, but in the end, there is only so much space.
Of them all, Zach’s passages shine. Each time we drop into the autistic child’s view, Peck shows the reader how this disorder provides him both weakness and strength. His arc exemplifies triumph in the face of adversity and never once do you feel Peck is lecturing or resorting to shortcuts to depict his disability. Whether or not he has close personal experience with autistic children, Peck provides the necessary illusion that he does and by the time Zach is at his pivotal moment you will be on the edge of your literary seat over the boy’s fate.
Despite the fluid and expert prose, toward the end, there were changes in style which weren’t exactly welcome. However, readers will likely find themselves so engrossed in the story that they make little difference.
Most likely “unmarketable” by traditional standards, this unique blend of genre and style provides a refreshing reading experience amid the young adult landscape of dystopias and vampires. Even classifying it as young adult is misleading as the book delves into a depth of theme with a fullness of prose you don’t typically find. Regardless the murky shelving, The Commons is a work of urban fantasy that deserves to be heard.
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