Sunday, September 22, 2013
Review: The Sea of Flesh and Ash by Jeffrey Thomas and Scott Thomas
Brothers Jeffrey Thomas and Scott Thomas have both been publishing weird fiction for over two decades. The Sea of Flesh and Ash is a wonderful collaboration where both brothers bring their talents to bear, each publishing their own novella based on the book's cover image. While the piece of digital art gives each brother a starting point, their stories could not be more different.
The Sea of Flesh by Jeffrey Thomas comes first, and takes place in modern day Salem, and features a cast of intertwined characters, the main two being Lee and Dot. Dot is a young Vietnamese woman working as a waitress in a seaside restaurant, who begins to experience a strange recurring dream, which is only brought on by sleep or orgasm. Lee is a man in an amiably failing marriage, who begins dating Mai, Dot's mother and a nurse at Lee's dying mother's nursing home. Although Lee hasn't met Dot, they begin sharing the same dream experience.
Jeffrey does many things well with this story. The dream realm he creates is creepily mysterious, and more is seen with each visit. What the author does even better is in creating a tragic drama for his realistic characters to play out. While Lee and Mai are happy together, Dot and Mai are plagued by Mai's abusive husband Trang. The dream realm visits parallel the unfolding situation, leading to a poetically tragic ending.
Scott Thomas takes a different approach with The Sea of Ash, offering what reads like a more classically inspired weird tale. The narrator is a retired man with an interest in esoteric books, who is following in the footsteps of two historical "arcane adventurers" that he has become enamored of. The narrative switches back and forth from the present day enthusiast, to the two men whose footsteps he is following: Dr. Pond, a doctor returned home from the Great War and Simon Brinklow, a British man exploring New England in Colonial times. Scott manages to weave together the three threads to create an intricate story about alternate dimensions, and the three men's obsession with finding out more about the strange phenomena. The Sea of Ash is more lighthearted in tone than Jeffrey's tragic The Sea of Flesh, being more of a fantasy with some creepy moments as opposed to a tragedy, but doesn't suffer for it. If anything it makes it even better of a counterbalance to Jeffrey's story.
Weird fiction readers will most likely be familiar with The Brothers Thomas. I've been a reader of Jeffrey Thomas for awhile now, but this marked the first Scott Thomas story I've read, although I've been hearing great things about his work, and this story backed up everything I have heard. This book could be a great chance to see what both authors are about, and is a great example of how art (in this case, the piece of art used for the cover) affects and inspires everyone differently.