Book Talk: 'The Town' by Shaun Prescott - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: 'The Town' by Shaun Prescott

Alexander Wallace visits the town.
In a world powered by great urban centers, the smaller towns in various countries can feel as if they have been left behind. When we think of ‘New York,’ we think of the metropolis at the mouth of the Hudson, rather than the broader state that has many small towns. We think similarly about places like Quebec or Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. In America, we talk of how the rust belt, like the Wisconsin town my parents grew up in, is suffering due to loss of industry; they say something similar about the north of England or the northwest of France or the Valley of the Po in Italy or a segment of Ontario around Toronto in Canada. For those of us in urban cores, they have been forgotten.

Such is one of the central thrusts of Shaun Prescott’s novel The Town. It was not marketed as science fiction, but I think there is a strong case for it to be adjacent (the hoity-toity ‘literary’ establishment likes to hem and haw about this - see my piece about Umberto Eco’s Baudolino) to traditional speculative fiction. This is because, over the course of the novel, multiple gaping holes in reality form throughout a little town in New South Wales, Australia.

The first-person narrator of the book is a man who is in the process of writing a book on disappearing towns in New South Wales. He moves to this particular town because it is a quiet place where he can take a quiet job and write his book in peace. Being the inquisitive person that he is, he starts asking questions about the history of this town. In a development that is reminiscent of Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy, nobody in this town seems to be aware of any local history. It is almost as if the town (which is never named) was conjured ex nihilo and deposited in the desert of New South Wales.

It is during the narrator’s quest for any sense of history that the holes in reality start to appear. With this premise, Prescott reminded me strongly of Ted Chiang or Jorge Luis Borges or Italo Calvino (him in particular) or perhaps Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi: he has an esoteric eye for weird things to write about, and what they say about us.

The Town is a book about memory. In a manner that calls to mind Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town in selecting an interesting cross-section of the town in question, with the narrator playing the role of Wilder’s Stage Manager. All of the people that Prescott writes about are, in some way, wrangling with the past and what it means to them. They are often angsty, and have no real effective way of dealing with it.

The Town is a deeply melancholy book. It is about what we have forgotten, and how easy it is to forget things that were once important, to us or to others. It is about how times change, and places and people are all too often left behind. Read it, and get a sense of how temporary everything is.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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