Doorways to the Deadeye by Eric J. Guignard
Publisher: JournalStone | Release Date: July 26, 2019 | Pages: 355
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Eric J. Guignard presents a stunning work of magical realism and American folklore in Doorways to the Deadeye, revolving around the growing legend of train-hopping hobo Lucas Thatcher.
Luke has a special skill, you see. He can read the hobo code with surprising ease, including those glowing mystical symbols nobody else can see, those symbols that plot a course to Athanasia, a world inhabited by the dead that exists alongside our own, where these living ghosts are kept alive by the social consciousness of the living world. To be forgotten is to be condemned to death. We remember, and we give power, to those once-living legends of American past, like Ben Franklin, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, John Dillinger, and Pretty Boy Floyd. Trouble is brewing on both sides of reality, though, and Luke is a wanted man. There are those in Athanasia who want Luke to be forgotten, and those in our reality who want him dead, like Smith McCain, a ruthless railroad bull who is not content to simply roust hobos off the train, but seeks to murder any and all he finds, including Luke, the one who got away.
I have to admit, Doorways to Deadeye is a bit outside my comfort zone, but I’m glad I hopped aboard it. Guignard can write, man, and this particular book has a welcome dash of literary style to it with prose that shines. He does a great job building up his cast of characters and he explores the nature of storytelling with skill and a whole lot of panache. The book itself is a marvelous ode to storytelling and the ways in which it enriches our lives, for both the storyteller and the consumer of those stories.
“The stories a person tells are lives in themselves,” Guignard writes. “Like lives, some are short and some are long; some are dull and some fill you with wonder. In the end, how much…was truth or lies or dream or lore doesn’t really matter.”
This one’s a dense and meaty narrative, and one that’s deliberately paced. At times it moves with the purposeful slowness of a long freight train steadily chugging along, and at other times it rockets along like a high speed rail. It never feels imbalanced or unsteady, though. Rather, there’s a thoughtfulness to the narrative and Guignard opens up a number of varied vistas for readers to explore and admire, letting you linger on some precious sights, like Luke’s burgeoning relationship with Daisy, and at other times working to scare the hell out of you. While Doorways to Deadeye has a Neil Gaiman-esque quality to it, Guignard proves as adept as some of the best horror authors in setting a scene, like the Luke and Lizbeth chapter, which sees Luke entering a strange house. Right off the bat, Guignard establishes an eerie atmosphere and a creeping sense of dread that continually builds toward a shocking and gruesome discovery that positively startled me.
In fact, I was wowed by several scenes here and also delighted by Guignard’s use of familiar faces from American history, some of whom he has cast in unexpected lights and given them roles in Luke’s story that run contrary to the historical record, all the while making those adjustments narratively logical and consistent. Fact or fiction matters not, here, and seeing Dillinger square off against Western lawdogs in the streets of Boston is an awfully good time. What’s most important here, though, is the story, and this one’s worth its weight in gold.