I was rather shocked today to realise that it’s been a month and a day since I last posted a review. 😦 I’ve still been reading as voraciously as ever but somehow the bits and pieces of my life seem to have taken centre stage, pushing the reviews off into the wings. So today I’m going to balance things up a little bit by reviewing an urban/paranormal/psychological fantasy called ‘Toby Streams the Universe’.
Written by Maya Lassiter, ‘Toby Streams the Universe’ is a hard novel to categorize because it contains elements of so many genres, however, before you start to wrinkle up your nose and turn away, let me quickly add that all those elements fit together beautifully!
I know that everyone talks about genres these days but I’ve always disliked the whole concept of pigeon-holing stories. To me a story is either good, great or awful and I really don’t care what arbitrary genre it happens to fall into. For example, I love science fiction, and to a lesser extent fantasy, however there is nothing I hate more than a science fiction novel that is a thinly veiled excuse for a geek convention. Yes, the science is interesting and yes, it can provide the motive force for the plot but if that is all the story has to offer then thanks but no thanks.
Am I being picky? Yes but I don’t care. Genre is just a handy bag in which to carry a story and it’s the story that is important. It must have believable characters experiencing believable events in believable worlds and it must be written in the kind of prose that picks me up and carries me to the end without any nasty potholes along the way.
Does all that sound vaguely familiar? Well, it should because that’s what literature is meant to be. Genre or no genre, anything less is not worth reading. >>End Rant<<
Getting back to ‘Toby Streams the Universe’, I’m not prepared to say this story is so good that it deserves to be up there with Shakespeare but… it is well-written, with likeable, interesting main characters who are not stamped out with a cookie cutter. More importantly the story has a sub-text that makes you think about your own, far more ordinary life in a different way. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Toby is in his mid twenties with an older brother and a younger sister. He and his sister both share a secret family talent that has been a curse for generations. Those who inherit this talent inevitably die young, of violence or insanity or suicide.
Ordinary people would probably describe this talent as clairvoyance but to those who have to live with it the talent is more like a river of chaos that will drown them if they slip.
Toby’s father, an eminent psychiatrist, also had the ‘talent’ and tried to control it, both in himself and in his children but when the story begins he has not been seen for quite some time. Is he dead? Did he go insane? No-one knows. The family attempts to go on as normal but the fear that the curse has struck again terrifies them all. Toby has tried to find traces of his father in the ‘stream’ of his talent and thinks that his father is still alive somewhere but cannot pinpoint his location because the personality of his father appears to have been subsumed by the chaos of the ‘stream’.
The situation appears hopeless for all of them and Toby isolates himself in his apartment, self-medicating on alcohol to dull the tug of the stream but fate seems determined to force him out of his self-imposed exile and further into danger. Friends, workmates, neighbours and family, everyone wants or needs Toby’s unique help and he can’t say no because no matter how hard he tries he can’t stop caring. Then, as if all of those real people were not enough, Toby begins to hear a ‘voice’ inside his head. Is this the first sign of encroaching madness or something even more sinister? The only way to find out is to unravel the mystery of what really happened to his ancestors, a mystery that both his father and mother have always tried to keep hidden…
And that is where I will leave Toby’s story except to say that everyone of you will find a little bit of yourselves in Toby. I know I did. There are universal themes in the story that all of us will recognize. Maya Lassiter does not shove those themes down our throats but they are there and they are thought provoking. They are also the hook that will make me remember this story in years to come.
Oh, and did I say that the story was well-written, well-paced and compelling reading? Well it is, so get out there and read it!