Saturday, August 4, 2012

Communion Town by Sam Thompson

     Sam Thompson's Communion Town isn't really a novel, but "a city in ten chapters."  Citizens of Thompson's fictional city experience a variety of pleasures and pains - but honestly, it's mostly pain.  Much of the book reads like a crime noir novel - the city is full of mysterious, beautiful women, private investigators, butchers, murderers, and men who refer to women as "dames."  The idea behind Communion Town is to portray a variety of experiences and perspectives in the same setting - to show the extremes of how different people experience an urban area.  But after finishing the book, I feel like the audience is only shown one aspect of the city - the awful, miserable, evil side.  Very few characters in Thompson's book are happy to be a part of Communion Town, which I don't think is a realistic portrayal of any city.  I mean, Hubert Selby, Jr's New York is very different from Candace Bushnell's new York, so I was expecting a much more stark juxtaposition of emotions and happenings.  Communion Town just felt too limited in its perspective.

      That being said, much of the book is very creative and well-written.  I especially enjoyed "The Good Slaughter" and "The Significant City of Lazarus Glass," which explored aspects of violence, memory, and perceptions.  They were dark, gritty, noir chapters, and that's where Thompson's writing felt most comfortable and natural.  But the writing falls short in the continuity of the book, meaning that there really isn't any.  That's why I was surprised that Communion Town was even nominated for the Man Booker Prize.  I was under the impression that only full-length novels would be eligible, and I would not consider this book to be a novel. 
     Now you're probably thinking about the 2011 controversy over Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, which was hotly debated over.  Some critics said yes, it is a novel, and others said it more closely resembles short stories.  Well, A Visit From the Goon Squad is an epic novel compared to Communion Town.  Just to be clear, I did not dislike Communion Town, I just don't think it meets all the criteria to be awarded the Man Booker Prize.

This review was simultaneously published on BookerMarks on 8/4/12

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