Published by Revell on June 30, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Speculative
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Before Dan opened his door to find a wounded woman who had escaped from the tormentors in the mountain, his life had become rather quiet. He and the eight other people in the mostly abandoned town had become friends. They spent peaceful evenings around the campfire and even made vague plans to journey east one day and leave the ominous mountain behind.
But the woman's arrival changes everything.
Who is she? How does she know so much about Dan's brother, who is still held captive in the mountain? Why are long-forgotten memories rising to the surface? And why does Dan feel so compelled to keep her presence in his house a secret?
Visionary writer Shawn Smucker is back with an unsettling story that invites us to consider two challenging questions: To what lengths will we go to assuage our own guilt? and Is there a limit to the things we will do for the people we love?
These Nameless Things is a Dante’s Inferno-esque tale that deals with one man’s personal hell and his struggle for redemption. Smucker doesn’t hide the connections. The entrance into the mountain cave bears the famous warning Abandon all hope ye who enter here and a few other Easter eggs make the connection obvious and substantive.
Our main character is Dan, who was—like every resident of the mountainside town—once a captive within the mysterious mountain. He knows he was tortured. He knows he escaped. And now he lives with the purpose of guiding others who have escaped out of the mountainside and into a new life in town. He also knows that his brother is still in the mountain.
Dan’s memories start to return and with that some of the secrets of the mountain are revealed. Or, well, at least made known as secrets. Dan’s once-mundane life is now filled with suspicion and uncertainty. And that only gets worse when a woman escapes the mountain and tells Dan that his brother is the last one left.
These Nameless Things would have worked better as a short story. It is difficult—even with Smucker’s obvious skill—to maintain the aura and singular mystery of the story over the length of the entire novel. Fifty pages in, I was waiting for answers, any answers. A hundred pages in, I still did not know the world I was in, or its rules, or even, really, its people.
The feeling of confusion and lostness is deliberate, but the sheer amount of time I was left in lostness made me disconnect from the book. I skipped forward a couple of chapters. I paged back a bit to see if I’d missed something. I read faster because absolutely nothing seemed to be happening that I could understand. Having persevered to the end, I can say it was worth it, but the journey can seem off-putting and, like the mountain, not everybody will make it out safely.
This is my first Smucker book so maybe that’s his style. The press release I received with this book said “These Nameless Things will have readers frantically flipping pages for answers in this thought-provoking narrative.” That’s certainly true. This isn’t a light or easy read. It’s heavy, weighty, literary. The symbolism and imagery are poignant and powerful, but overshadow the story. I think Smucker could have rectified this by adding a second storyline—flashbacks to Dan and his brother before the mountain. It would have given the reader context for the mystery and a break from the heaviness of the mountain’s mystery.
These Nameless Things is a slow, methodical, literary read. Know what you’re getting into before you read it. It’s markedly different and unique, which will both be its selling point and its struggle. The strength of the writing and the imagery kept me going despite a weak plot. I appreciate it in concept, but it falls a bit short in execution. 4.5 stars for the writing and imagery. 2.5 for the plot. I’ll average it at 3.5 overall. It’s a beautifully chaotic work of art.
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