Tom Whalen

Four Novels

Cloudscapes (Mystery Novel)

A mys­tery sur­rounds the events on Stelzhamerstrasse in Salzburg, a mys­tery that runs beneath the Mönchsberg and through the Austrian alps like a vein of gold and lands in the lap of a mar­quise whose pecu­liar locks have befud­dled Karlova’s finest thieves.  Rousing her coach and hors­es, i.e. her dri­ver and her BMW, she takes off to Brussels, where the nar­ra­tor (non-par­tic­i­pant) first sees her com­ing out of the American embassy.  He (I’m assum­ing the nar­ra­tor is a male, the book doesn’t say, but the author appar­ent­ly is) fol­lows her to the train sta­tion, where she catch­es the Talus to Cologne, a city I’ve spent lit­tle time in, my busi­ness tak­ing me more often to Bonn where Fuller filmed Dead Pigeon on Beethovenstrasse.  The mar­quise takes no lover in Cologne, calls no one, emails and text mes­sages dit­to.  Pages and pages of the descrip­tion of the sky over the Rhein val­ley, many of them, it seems to me, lift­ed from oth­er nov­els.  I wan­der off to the kitchen, return, wan­der off again, return again, take a nap, do my laun­dry, answer my mail, do my tax­es, rewrite my will which I do at least once a day, and when I return again the mar­quise is in Salzburg with a dead man at her feet and an unfired revolver in her hand, and the peo­ple and traf­fic on Stelzhamerstrasse are frozen in the pos­ture of those who no longer can dis­tin­guish real­i­ty from dream.

 

The Hesperides Syndrome (Science Fiction Novel)

Nothing ages faster than the future,” said the toad-like sil­i­con tree on the plan­et Numania in the Hesperides Cluster, the region where Melissa’s mom Adrienne winds up after a quick-wit­ted mouse an evil empire wish­es to kill lands in her purse and recruits her in his des­per­ate scheme to save mice every­where.  Melissa remem­bered too late to men­tion to her moth­er she had left the cake in the oven, and from this mis­take we spring from Little Rock to Farflung in a tale whose diegetic space encom­pass­es the mul­ti­verse.  Says on the lurid cov­er the author’s name is Bulwer Zetford, sure­ly a house name used by numer­ous word slaves at DeBase SF.  But why is the mouse so sad, so mad?  Won’t he unwind his anfrac­tu­ous tale and win out in the end, just like the lowli­est of the low should?  Why as I read this space opera do I feel the need to sit in a smoke-filled French café?  Are all nov­els exis­ten­tial?

 

The I and the Not-I (Paris Novel)

A young woman rents a maid’s room on rue de l’Université.  She’s in Paris on a research grant, just like an Anita Brookner char­ac­ter.  In fact her name is Anita, but in no oth­er way does she resem­ble that estimable author’s char­ac­ters.  Our Anita is no wall­flower or schol­ar of 18th cen­tu­ry art, she’s a 21st cen­tu­ry mur­der­ess.  And not only a mur­der­ess but a high­ly acclaimed nov­el­ist and the­o­rist.  Her the­o­ry that the space between the “I” and the “not-I” is expand­ing at a rate pro­por­tion­al to that of the uni­verse has just set the world of crit­i­cal the­o­ry on its ears.  She’s the toast of Paris, her books the cham­pagne of con­tem­po­rary thought.  I’ve read sev­er­al of them myself and can attest to their effi­ca­cy.  Like a Kierkegaardian truth they edi­fy.  But what is a Danish Protestant doing here?  Hasn’t he made enough trou­ble for Europeans already?  Anita thinks so, since it is Kierkegaard who con­tin­ues to baf­fle her.  Descartes a breeze, Hegel a hoot, semi­otics a child’s alpha­bet blocks—but S. K.’s sim­ple leaps and trem­bles flum­mox her.  Why?  She wan­ders Paris at night reliev­ing her mis­ery by ran­dom slaugh­ter.  One day (p. 501 of 1000) she acci­den­tal­ly mur­ders her moth­er, at which point, fear­ing a turn toward Dostoyevsky, I quit read­ing.  What right do the French have to despair?

 

The Pounding (Panic Novel)

When I think of all the times I’ve left the apart­ment with­out my keys, all the times I’ve refused to answer the phone out of fear of what I may hear on the oth­er end, I don’t doubt this novel’s authen­tic­i­ty, no mat­ter how inau­then­tic its style.  In a bar­ren land­scape such as the one here­in pre­sent­ed, thanks to light and scale, any­thing can hap­pen.  Who is the “I”?  The “I” is always, or at least a lit­tle, the read­er.  Which is why the pound­ing of my upstairs’ neigh­bor on his key­board reminds me I should give up this pan­icked tale and go for a stroll in the Kräherwald, get some air in my lungs oth­er than this nico­tine-induced mad­ness that ris­es from the novel’s pages.  You’d think I was the moth­er whose child had been abduct­ed in the metro, hus­band slaugh­tered, and whose own moth­er refus­es to believe she’s in trou­ble.  And then, sud­den­ly, as I turn to the last page, I’m in Paradise.  The hus­band was not real­ly dead after all, in fact the whole kid­nap­ping and sub­se­quent crimes were all his doing.  Let it nev­er be said, the nov­el announces, that misog­y­ny as a plot device or in real­i­ty is dead.  I’m amazed at the alacrity with which she dis­patch­es her hus­band to hell with a meat cleaver.  What a relief the nov­el of pan­ic some­times is!

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Tom Whalen’s fic­tion has appeared recent­ly in Agni, Fiction International, The Hopkins Review, The Literary Review, Marginalia, and New Ohio Review.  The Birth of Death and Other Comedies: The Novels of Russell H. Greenan is now avail­able from Dalkey Archive.