by Lavie Tidhar
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Pub Date 24 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 28 Oct 2021
A Publishers Weekly Top-10 Forthcoming Fantasy Title
"With The Escapement, Tidhar fearlessly crests the wave of the New New Weird with a wild, decadent hybrid of The Dark Tower and Carnivale."
—Catherynne M. Valente, author of Deathless
“Comic, tragic, and utterly magnificent.”
—Samantha Shannon, author of The Priory of the Orange Tree
In this dazzling new novel evoking Westerns, surrealism, epic fantasy, mythology, and circus extravaganzas, World Fantasy Award winner Lavie Tidhar (Central Station) has created an incomparable dreamscape of dark comedy, heartbreak, hope, and adventure. Chronicling a lone man’s quest in parallel worlds, The Escapement offers the archetypal darkness of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger within the dark whimsy of a child’s imagination.
Into the Escapement rides the Stranger, a lone gunman on a quest to rescue his son in a strange parallel reality. But it is easy to lose one’s way on an endlessly shifting, unpredictable landscape. Especially in a place full of dangerous mirror-images of a child's beloved things: lawless heroes, giants made of stone, downtrodden clowns, spectacular symbol storms, and an endless war between gods and shadowy beings.
As the Stranger has learned, the Escapement is a dreamscape of deep mysteries, unlikely allies, and unwinnable battles. Yet the flower the he seeks still lies beyond the Mountains of Darkness. Time is running out as the Stranger journeys deeper into the secret heart of an unimaginable world.
In his most compelling work to date, Lavie Tidhar has delivered a multicolored tapestry of dazzling imagery. The Escapement is an epic, wildly original chronicle of the extraordinary lengths to which one will go for love.
A Note From the Publisher
A LitStack Most Anticipated Book
A Den of Geek Top New Fantasy Book
”5/5 stars “Lavie Tidhar’s The Escapement (2021) is a fantastic and fantastical fever dream of a novel, a Weird Western via Lewis Carroll . . . Defying genre, defying categorization, even perhaps defying plot, Tidhar has crafted a baroque hallucinatory tale. you have to let wash over you as much as you read it.”
“Can we just all admit now that Lavie Tidhar’s a genius? He’s written another brilliant book—a beautiful fever dream that somehow manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, psychedelically weird, and deeply moving.”
—Daryl Gregory, award-winning author of Spoonbenders
“A father wrangles with his impending grief in a steampunk, Wild West alternate universe in Lavie Tidhar’s dazzling novel The Escapement . . . Those who enter the Escapement should strap themselves in for horrors and wonders galore. Filled with contorted fairy tales, myths, and familiar stories, Lavie Tidhar’s latest novel is both a fantastical diversion and a moving articulation of deep parental love.”
“To say The Escapement is unique sells it way short. It’s part weird western and part quest; half dream and half epic adventure tale set in a memorable Daliesque landscape. Tidhar lets his imagination run wild in this vivid book, all told in spare, beautiful prose.”
—Richard Kadrey, bestselling author of the Sandman Slim series
“These shifts of consciousness between worlds and the drawing of themes and symbols from one reality into another remind me of Iain Banks’ The Bridge. But The Escapement is an original masterpiece that is all Tidhar, full of echoes of his earlier stories and novels.”
—Sci Fi Mind
“Tidhar is a spellbinding stylist with a spell-casting imagination. Part fantasy, part sci-fi, part surreal mainstream, this novel plonks the reader into a vast, surreal landscape, the Escapement, in which clowns and stone monsters and cowboys and classic fictional characters coexist in a shifting tableau. The Stranger is our hero, a warrior searching for mythical flowers, even as in another universe he sits at his sick boy’s side in a hospital. None of this should work but all of it does, the author managing to evoke sadness, awe, and even humor. I could only compare my reading to old Philip K. Dick married to Samuel R. Delaney. The Escapement is a captivating triumph of imagination."
“Comic, tragic, and utterly magnificent. The Escapement is a thrilling blend of fairy tale, western and portal fantasy. Lavie Tidhar names a range of influences in his afterword, from expressionist art to Hebrew stories to the Epic of Gilgamesh; they combine into a surreal masterpiece.”
—Samantha Shannon, author of The Priory of the Orange Tree
“A surreal blend of Barnum and Bailey meets Stephen King’s Dark Tower and Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly . . . The genius of Tidhar, which he has repeatedly demonstrated, is that he can turn these literary and pop culture references into a gripping, moving narrative unlike anything you’ve read before.”
“Somewhere, in some city, a nameless man attends his dying son's bedside, powerless to save the boy. Desperate to find a cure, he slips into the Escapement: a Western world of maniacal whimsy populated by bounty hunters, stone giants, mimes, and clowns. Here, the ghost of John Wayne Gacy becomes a bloodthirsty giant, and P.T. Barnum is recast as a clown-enslaving general. The man, known in the Escapement as the Stranger, is not alone; most of the people in this weird desert come there from the real world by way of dream, drink, or death. Studded with features like the Big Rock Candy Mountains and the Desert de Soleil, the land bears intimate connections to the dying boy in the hospital bed—a boy who loves the circus and its clowns—and it's here that the Stranger hopes to find his son a panacea: Ur-shanabi, the Plant of Heartbeat. In keeping with its roots in midcentury Westerns, Tidhar's novel casts the Escapement's clowns as Native American analogs, turning the Stranger into their White savior and avenger, a man who knows that ‘one should never be unkind to clowns.’ The author draws from an eclectic mix of sources to create a dazzling story that is more than the sum of its parts, and much of the fun of reading it comes from recognizing its homages. Knowledgeable readers will notice shades of Stephen King, Lewis Carroll, and Westworld here, and Tidhar himself cites Z. Ariel's fairy tale, "The Heart of the Golden Flower," the Epic of Gilgamesh, Salvador Dalí, tarot cards, and Sergio Leone as particular sources of inspiration. A delightfully cacophonous novel, teeming with character.”
“The Escapement is absorbing, bizarre, haunting, and compelling. Lavie Tidhar continues to shatter the boundaries of literary and genre fiction with a novel that is equal parts horrifying dreamscape and an affecting meditation on parental love. There are a lot of books out there, but this is an experience.”
—David Liss, author of The Peculiarities
“Lavie Tidhar is a voice to be reckoned with. With The Escapement, he fearlessly crests the wave of the New New Weird with a wild, decadent hybrid of The Dark Tower and Carnivale. A vivid beach read, if the beach was made of greasepaint and gunpowder.”
—Catherynne M. Valente, author of Deathless
5/5 stars. “The descriptions are amazing throughout and the clown world is incredibly creative and imaginative. I loved some of the imagery here and never knew what surprise I would find on the next page.”
—Hidden in Pages
“Yes, there’s a narrative thread to follow throughout the book, but it’s only here in order for Tidhar to masterfully weave all sorts of different things together that make the reader's brain explode, or at the very least make readers shake their heads in bewilderment, but, ultimately, wonderment.”
“If you're a fan of bizarre fantasy world, absurdist stories or even magical realism, I think this book is perfect for you . . . The writing is very fluid, beautiful and fever dream-like.”
—The Ink Slinger
“[The Escapement] feels like a surrealist cartoon co-written by Dr. Seuss and Ray Bradbury.”
On Central Station
[STARRED REVIEW] “A fascinating future glimpsed through the lens of a tight-knit community. Verdict: Tidhar (A Man Lies Dreaming; The Violent Century) changes genres with every outing, but his astounding talents guarantee something new and compelling no matter the story he tells.”
“It is just this side of a masterpiece — short, restrained, lush.”
On The Violent Century
“A stunning masterpiece”
“A tour de force”
—James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential
On A Man Lies Dreaming
“A twisted masterpiece”
• Review copy mailings to leading newspaper, magazine, and fiction reviewers
• Print and digital ARCs available via NetGalley, Edelweiss, and Goodreads
• Promotional campaign to include blog tour, interviews, radio, and podcasts
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• Author appearances at bookstores, trade shows, conventions, and virtual events TBD
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 46 members
This has to be read to be appreciated. No review could do it justice. It caught my eye, as I am a fan of all things circus/carnival related. I got so much more than I had hoped for. Dark, sad, beautifully written and full of references (subtle and not so subtle) that will make you smile when you catch them. Elements of this story have been pulled from sources far and wide, but they come together uniquely to create a world worth escaping to...and from.
I have to say that this book is one of the strangest I have read in a long time and I really loved it. It's about a guy called The Stranger and his quest to find a flower that will save his sick son. The story flips back and forth between his time in the Escapement. and his time in the real world. The Escapement. is awesome. It has clowns and cowboys and scary stuff lurking about. On his journey, he meets several interesting people like the Conjurer, the Kid, and some seriously deranged carnies. I loved the Escapement world, it was so unique and disturbing at times. The flipping back and forth between worlds kind of confused me at times but the story, the crazy world, and the great characters make up for it. I would love to read more about this place and the clowns. There are so many cool possibilities that I hope the author writes more. This book is really something special.
The Escapement by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For such a short read, this highly intellectual bizarro western packs one hell of a wallop.
On one hand, it's merely the depths that a man will go through as he watches his child suffer in the hospital, but on the other, greater portion, it's literally a Dark Tower-like adventure with truly gorgeous detailed oddities everywhere.
The Stranger is one of the high arcana, and there are lots of tarot references with a full spread of Grimm, Russian mythology, Hebrew mythology, Greek, Mesopotamian, and Sergio Leone... not to mention Stephen King.
If it's a wild wasteland of the heart and mind, the text itself is fantastically cerebral and gore-filled. The nightmares are clowns. Old warriors from strange battles have musical instruments for legs and glass, ant-filled tubing for arms. Roses are more than roses and the desolation is as much as any Stranger can bear, in or out of a hospital.
The writing is one of the most creative and it is definitely wildly original. Don't let the various mythological pieces define it for you. I got lost in the tale and it eventually became quite difficult to pull myself away to surface to my reality.
I almost drank Sticks, myself.
Now, I should be honest here: I've been a long-time fan of Lavie Tidhar but even if I hadn't already fallen in love with his other writings, I'd be pointing at this and saying, "OMG, people, this is intellectually fantastic and overflowing with originality, worldbuilding, and heart hidden behind a stoic facade. Don't miss this!"
Fortunately, I can be both. Do yourself a favor and check him out.
"At night, hospitals feel like shadowy, desert wastelands inhabited mostly by machines...in this twilight empty world the man walked, his feet treading the parquet floor. They made a little squeaking sound...like a clown." He remembers taking his son to the circus, buying him a red balloon. The boy in the hospital bed is sleeping with his stuffed toy clown.
The Stranger had been traveling a long time, on a quest to find Ur-Shanabi, the Flower of Heartbeat, found in the Mountains of Darkness. Having entered a parallel reality, he must cross the Escapement. His journey starts in Clown Country. "Clowns were...indigenous to the Escapement, while people were not. And there was just something about clowns that people inherently [disliked]." The Stranger felt that clowns brought joy. "...somewhere, elsewhere in that other place, there lay a boy who had loved clowns." In the Escapement, "the clouds in the sky resembled clown's balloons...".
Many roads in the Escapement, subject to external forces, would loop upon themselves or terminate abruptly-leading to nowhere...". "Mazes...were not always static-a maze could shift unexpectedly around a traveler." "...Time was not neatly homogenous...but could flow, like hot and cold currents, which sometimes overlaid each other."
The Stranger's path crossed with a bounty hunter, a conjurer, bank robbers and aerialists. Many of them ingested "substance" or drank a pearly white drink called Sticks. One aerialist describes a visit to the other place where she was a teacher living in the city, a reality change that rapidly faded. The man lying on his couch, clutching a stuffed clown, frequented the Escapement. He traveled through symbol storms and witnessed war where a woman's head was turned into a flower with roots growing inside her. Throwing caution to the wind, the Stranger must reach the Mountain of Darkness despite the warning, "Do not seek the Ur-Shanabi...For the Plant of Heartbeat brings only heartache when it flowers."
"The Escapement" by Lavie Tidhar is a wildly, original work of science fiction/fantasy. In Spaghetti Western style, The Stranger, a lone gunman, enters a parallel reality and encounters mysterious creatures, circumvents battles and experiences ghostly apparitions. He will ignore the ever changing dangerous geography to search for the delicate flower, a final act of desperation, an act of love. A colorful cast of characters populate the circus-like Western as the Stranger braves the rugged topography that is the Escapement. Highly recommended.
Thank you Tachyon Publications and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This is a stunning novel of grief and escape and pain and imagination, and I'm recommending it to everyone. Where do realities end and begin, and how do parents cope with the loss of children? Where and how does one become a vigilante, or become resigned to events they cannot control? This novel dives deep into these questions, offering incredible sequences and plotlines of metaphor and diversion and emotion.
How come the prolific, multifaceted Israeli author, Lavie Tidhar, never came to my attention? My loss entirely, for if “The Escapement” is any guide, Tidhar is a spellbinding stylist with a spell-casting imagination. Part fantasy, part sci-fi, part surreal mainstream, this novel plonks the reader into a vast, surreal landscape, the Escapement, in which clowns and stone monsters and cowboys and classic fictional characters coexist in a shifting tableau. The Stranger is our hero, a warrior searching for mythical flowers, even as in another universe he sits at his sick boy’s side in a hospital. None of this should work but all of it does, the author managing to evoke sadness, awe, and even humor. I could only compare my reading to old Philip K. Dick married to Samuel R. Delaney. The Escapement is a captivating triumph of imagination.
If you're a fan of a bizarre fantasy world, absurdist stories, or even magical realism, I think this book is perfect for you.
It follows the story of this man whose son is really sick and hospitalized and someone tells him to find the Ur-Shanabi, the Flower of Heartbeat, as that might be the only way to save his son.
We follow the same character in the two different worlds- one, the real-world history of the world called the Escapement.
So in the Escapement, the Flower of Heartbeat is a thing that does exist, and this man is traveling around the place looking for it. Along the way, he will meet a lot of people, a lot of very strange, very weird people; but it also alternates with glimpses of the real world.
The writing is very fluid, beautiful and fever dream-like, almost bordering on the edge of lucidity.
Although the individual chapters are very long, the book itself is pretty short only 13 to 14 chapters, I think. The story is very emotional very different and refreshing.
It shows the lengths a father would go to protect his son. I thought it was incredible and I highly recommend picking this one up.
Series Info/Source: This is a stand alone book. I got an eGalley of this through NetGalley to review.
Thoughts: I really loved this book, although it won't be for everyone. Previous to this I read Tidhar’s Bookman Histories and really enjoyed them. The story mainly follows a character called The Stranger who falls back and forth between our world and a circus-like world whose natural inhabitants are different types of clowns. In our world he is a father sitting beside the bed of his dying child and in the circus world he is on a quest to find a rare flower that will save his child.
The descriptions are amazing throughout and the clown world is incredibly creative and imaginative. I loved some of the imagery here and never knew what surprise I would find on the next page. This does have a fairly dark vibe to it but still comes off as magical and whimsical at times.
The comparison between this book and The Dark Tower series is very apt. The Stranger ends up joining up with a character called The Kid. The Kid in turn is searching for The Conjurer. The landscape here is a lot more fanciful than the Dark Tower series, but it has a similar questing type of vibe to it and characters fall back and forth between worlds.
My Summary (5/5): Overall I really, really enjoyed this and would recommend it. My only caution is that the story feels a bit ambiguous at times and the ending is fairly open. This is one that won't be for people who like a very straight-up and defined story. However, for me it was about the journey, the adventure, and the crazy world that lies just beyond our own. I just loved the world-building here and really enjoyed the strange and expected turns the story took.
Lavie Tidhar’s The Escapement starts quietly enough: A man who has been sitting with his very ill son in a hospital room steps out for some fresh air and notices a small red flower by the sidewalk. Then we see that flower through the eyes of the Stranger in a surreal, barren landscape. We are off on a brilliant and unpredictable tour of a world only Tidhar could imagine. With his six-shooters, the Stranger rides his horse on a quest for a healing flower. This novel is a strange mix of darkly comic violence and the quiet devotion of a father’s love for his son.
The world the Stranger wanders is the Escapement. It is populated with grotesque clowns, bounty hunters who massacre them for money, and a variety of unique characters who sometimes help the Stranger, sometimes try to kill him. Above all, it is a world where time keeps sounding its relentless tick, tick but sometimes seems to stand still.
The story starts to shift when the Stranger notices traces of the “other place” as ghostly cars, people and buildings slip through the landscape from time to time. The man in that other place sits endlessly by the bedside of his ailing child. At one point, the Stranger travels into a deep tunnel that seems to come out at the hospital room, but as he approaches it his own body becomes translucent. He can’t be sure if the man in the hospital room has dreamed him into being or if the Stranger has dreamed that man. The barriers between realities are tenuous, and there is a frightening uncertainty about where he belongs.
These shifts of consciousness between worlds and the drawing of themes and symbols from one reality into another remind me of Iain Banks’ The Bridge. But The Escapement is an original masterpiece that is all Tidhar, full of echoes of his earlier stories and novels.
As Tidhar notes in an Afterword, he has drawn on numerous sources, including Hebrew and Russian fairytales, Greek myth, Dr. Seuss, Salvador Dali’s painting and the Epic of Gilgamesh, among others. But all of that is integrated perfectly into a compelling story that no one else could have envisioned. It is written in often beautifully moving language that reminds me of the more personal style of Tidhar’s Central Station, which also deals with boundaries and borders in a very different way.
Each of Lavie Tidhar’s novels seems unique, yet the quality of imagination, the brilliance of writing and many themes tie them together. For me each of his novels feels like a breakthrough into a different level of consciousness, full of wonder, bizarre twists and turns and always deep feeling.
The Escapement est un roman de Lavie Tidhar, dans lequel l’auteur mêle Weird Fiction, western, Fantasy, et univers juxtaposés. Il met en scène la quête d’un père au chevet de son fils atteint d’une maladie cardiaque, qui évolue sous les traits du Stranger dans le monde surnaturel de l’Escapement, dans lequel il recherche Ur-Shanabi, une fleur qui pourrait guérir son enfant.
Ce monde, peu à peu colonisé par les humains, comporte des créatures surnaturelles telles que des clowns, les Arcanes Majeures du Tarot, mais aussi les Colosses et les pupae umbrarum, qui se livrent un conflit séculaire qui détruit ou transforme profondément les humains qui se retrouvent pris entre leurs feux.
Le récit s’ancre pleinement dans la Weird Fiction de par le monde et les métamorphoses qu’il décrit et le mélange des genres qu’il opère, ce que j’ai beaucoup apprécié ! J’ai trouvé la quête du Stranger et la fin du roman particulièrement touchants.
Si vous avez aimé Aucune terre n’est promise et que vous lisez en anglais, je vous recommande vivement la lecture de The Escapement !
“The Stranger had been travelling for a long time, searching for the Flower of Heartbeat, and he was destined to travel for a long time more.”
The description can tell you only so much. The Stranger travels with his rifle through unpredictable land of Escapement, to find the Flower of Heartbeat. The man tries to cope with the dying of his little son.
I don´t think I´ve read so complex book since last year´s Driftwood by Marie Brennan (which was also amazing). From practically first paragraph you know this will be emotional journey. On the one hand, there is the man, devasted in hospital, trying to somehow save his son (no spoilers, first pages of the book), thinking about memories they have together – visiting of circus, the boy´s love for clowns, balloons,..). On the other hand, the Stranger is travelling through magical western of Escapement, trying to find the cure.
BUT! Don´t expect sweet sad story. The Escapement is everything but. The Escapement is brutal, not forgiving, battleyard between giants and something else, equally terrifying. Magical storms which can transform parts of your body to hourclocks full of ants; clowns, throwing at you custard pies which melt your face; time warping villages to never let you go….
I´ve never saw such blending of two timelines/stories together. It reminded me movie The Fall, but the Escapement was more fluid, more brutal (and I hope, someday, Tidhar´ll give us some notes from writing this story). Everything is going one direction – can the Stranger find the Flower and save the boy?
And as I´m accidentally listening Mad World right now, it somehow enhancing the sorrowful/insane feel of this book. The Escapement is literally mad, worlds are blending together, horrible massacres happening; but also watching the man in hospital, you are devasted along him. I love how this book is not personal (you don´t even know their names), but you feel everything with characters. Not only the main ones, but also sidekicks (as the right western), I love all of them.
It´s definitely one of the best books I´ve read for a long time. Also, did I mention it has a map? ♥
Thanks to Netgalley for an e-ARC. Now I want to have it on my shelves and hug it from time to time.
THE ESCAPEMENT, by Lavie Tidhar, is quite possibly the weirdest book I have ever read. And no, I'm not saying it as if it's a bad thing. It just, well, is.
I was going to try to be be clever, using a dictionary definition of the word "escapement" to help describe the book. The website dictionary.com has 5 definitions of the word escapement, none of which (for me) accurately describe the book. The website thesaurus.com wasn't much better. It gave 8 synonyms for the word escapement, but I wasn't satisfied with any one of them.
It figures. The book defies description. But that's not a bad thing. It's really a good thing. How many books do readers comes across these days that are so different, so offbeat, so..weird, that they defy description? Not many. But we certainly have one here.
The Escapement (not the book, but the setting), is an alternate, parallel world populated with all sorts of weird creatures and occurrences. It is not unusual, to see on any given day, clowns (sometimes vicious), mimes (also sometimes vicious), bounty hunters, tarot cards, and giants made of stone. There are unexplained wars occurring, including wars between symbols. Heck, wars between different clown factions are referred to. The landscape is sometimes surrealistic, invoking images that remind the reader of Salvador Dali. We meet a version of John Wayne Gacy (as a clown, of course), who is nearly impossible to kill. It's...weird. But that's not a bad thing.
Our protagonist, if he can be called that, is known as "the Stranger". He has come to the Escapement to search for a particular flower, the "Ur-shanabi", the Plant of Heartbeat. He has come from our reality, the one we are familiar with, where his son is dying in a hospital. Our reality is known as that "other place", and there are ways of intentionally travelling between the two worlds, all of which involve the use of mind altering chemicals, whether it be alcohol or drugs. Sometimes the Stranger can see across to the other worlds. It's...weird. But that's not a bad thing.
Without giving anything away, THE ESCAPEMENT tells the story of the Stranger looking for the aforementioned plant in order to help save his son back in our world. But while that's the story element the novel hangs its hat on, it is almost such a minor point as to be almost irrelevant. THE ESCAPEMENT is really Tidhar's excuse for taking a whole bunch of literary references and dumping them into one story to see if he can make them fit together. And if he can't, so what? Yes, there's a narrative thread to follow throughout the book, but it's only here in order for Tidhar to masterfully weave all sorts of different things together
that make the reader's brain explode, or at the very least make readers shake their heads in bewilderment, but, ultimately, wonderment.
A few weeks ago as I write this Lavie Tidhar was a guest on The Coode Street Podcast. When talking about THE ESCAPEMENT, he said "that book is just weird". And I agree with him. But it's not a bad weird. It's a good weird. It's a book that doesn't telegraph where it's going. It's also a book that feels like it doesn't know where it's going until it gets there. But it's not predictable by any stretch of the imagination. And it does stretch the reader's imagination in a very good way. It's something different, and something weird. And in this case, it's a very good thing.
Lavie Tidhar’s The Escapement is a fantastic and fantastical fever dream of a novel, a weird western via Lewis Carroll, Gilgamesh if had been translated and illustrated by Norton Juster and scored by Ennio Morricone, The Searchers if it had starred Buster Keaton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had it been directed by David Lynch from a screenplay co-written by Steven King, Raymond Carver, and Italo Calvino and storyboarded by Salvador Dali. It’s a wondrous riot of imagination that veers back and forth from horrific to heartbreaking to laugh-out-loud funny to macabre to absurdist. Defying genre, defying categorization, even perhaps defying plot, Tidhar has crafted a baroque hallucinatory tale you have to let wash over you as much as you read it. Will it be to everyone’s taste? Absolutely not. But those who find it enough to their liking to continue will revel in its many rewards.
Somewhere in a harshly realistic world, a man (referenced only as “the man”) helplessly attends his despairingly ill son in the hospital where machines “beep and chirp” to no avail. Meanwhile, in The Escapement — a maniacal Wild West populated by clowns, immense stone giants, mimes, slave mines, the ghost of John Wayne Gacy, and others — a man known only as The Stranger quests for the Ur-shanabi, the Plant of Heartbeat, a mythical flower said to be able to cure anything, even time. The worlds can each at times be seen, mistily, blurrily, one from the other in ghostly fashion, and people travel back and forth at times, but as to which, if either, is the “real one” even the Stranger is unsure, wondering “do we dream that other world or does it dream us?” And he wonders it again as he and the Man fade in and out of each other’s moments:
He did not know if the Escapement were real, for what was real? The world was filled with impossible things, like the joyful laugh of a child. He closed his eyes. Behind them were only white walls, an antiseptic smell, the hum of machines. A doctor whispered something … When he opened his yes, the Kid was there.
The more realistic thread involving the man and his son, as noted above, reminded me of nothing so much as a Raymond Carver story in style and tone, the formation of the sentences, the language. That sense of despair, of always being on the edge. Tidhar captured me from the very opening:
The Boy was very still in the small white bed. The man held the book and he tried to keep reading from it, but his voice wouldn’t work … The man though of a day in spring, not that long ago, when he’d first taken the boy to see the circus. They’d walked hand in hand through the Midway … saw the clowns. He’d bought the boy a balloon and gave it to him to hold, but the boy let it go and the balloon floated far high into the sky, until it vanished. The boy had burst into tears and the man picked him up and held him close … and after but a moment the boy smiled and held the man’s face in hands and looked at him with such trust and love that would have broken the man’s heart had he let it. Dad, he said. Dad.
Sorrowful, bittersweet, filled with moment of aching pain but also aching beauty, the realistic section alone is worth the price of admission.
Intermingled with it, and taking up the lion’s share of the novel, the scenes involving the Stranger have a number of elements that act as parallels between stories beyond the two men blurring one into the other. The Stranger finds himself in a Waiting Room in a town that has the feel of the Lotus-Eater tale from The Odyssey. Later there is a great hole in the world. And everywhere there are clocks, broken, distorted, ticking but never tocking, time always marked, time feeling frozen, never enough time, time moving glacially, agonizingly slow.
The Stranger’s section is much more episodic, almost at times a series of short stories and digressive stories within stories. Clowns are scalped and enslaved, trains are robbed, a war beyond human comprehension wages seemingly forever with humans as pawns moved across the board and sometimes taken over, possessed, robbed of any agency and turned into “sock puppets.” The Stranger meets and travels for a time with a female bounty hunter, meets and travels for a longer time with a young man called The Kid, on his own quest, this to find and kill The Conjurer (one of those digressive stories we get later in the novel). Tidhar employs the classic Western moments in language, plot, and imagery, as in the scene, easily recognizable from any Western film:
They had all moved to the window, guns drawn, and the Stranger peered out onto Main Street. He saw the shops were rapidly closing … the people outside were running for shelter, and in mere moments the street was deserted. Behind them, he heard the owner of the bar loudly pump a shotgun.
While the Western is the foundational homage here, Tidhar stocks the novel (mostly the Stranger’s section) with a host of allusions: to Narnia, to Oz, to silent comedies, to famous clowns, the Tarot deck, folktales and fables, Gilgamesh as mentioned, Shelley, Greek mythology, some of which he notes as influences in an afterword. Half the fun is recognizing these breadcrumbs. But that’s not the only fun. There’ s a surprising amount of humor in a book filled with death and violence, maimings and war, massacres and horrific transformations. Though admittedly, some of the humor is itself attached to violence, as in a wonderful scene involving an attack by mimes: “They fired methodically at the mimes climbing the walls. The mimes mimed getting hurt. The mimes fell, hitting invisible obstacles … The Kid was out of bullets and … stabbed the creature in the neck … ‘Got something to say?” the Kid screamed.”
As you can see, this book is seriously warped, seriously weird, and so as I said in the intro, it won’t be for everyone. But everyone should at least start it. As for me, I can tell you already it’s going on my best of the year list, as have several earlier Tidhar novels. In fact, this one makes Tidhar Five for Five — it’s the fifth book by him I’ve given five stars to. I may have to start a new rating system for his next one . . .
Thank you to the author and Netgalley for providing a copy. I have reviewed honestly.
The Escapement is an intricate tale woven with creative threads and a captivating tale. The world building was spectacular, descriptive and unique. The characters we meet along the journey are quirky and spectacular in their singularities.
Overall, this novel was well written with themes that drew me in and ensared me from start to finish.
When's the last time you've read a dark fantasy western featuring feral clowns? Yeah, well, when's the last time a dark fantasy western featuring feral clowns made your CRY? Lavie Tidhar's "The Escapement" is a wildly unique, original take on the hero's journey, and though some of its ideas may be a tad under-baked, the world-building alone is worth the price of admission. Also, unlike many novels with such bizarre concepts/worlds, there's beating heart beneath the weirdness, which had my in tears by the book's final passages. The times I spent in this world was far too brief, and I hope eventually we'll get to revisit the Stranger, the Kid, the Conjurer, and all the other strange but lovable characters who call the Escapement home, in this strange world where giants and shadow monsters battle in an eternal war, being in the presence of which being enough to permanently transform anything, where strongmen and carnies battle in the deep woods. Truly a treasure that I hope gets the attention it deserves.
Like Central Station, Tidhar brings his imagination and gorgeously intelligent writing to his newest novel, The Escapement.
While I found myself a bit lost at times in the complex plot, I was blown away by the level of depth and intricacy of the world building. Tidhar's world building shines in a way unlike any author I have ever read. From wanderings in clown country to references from Hebrew and Russian mythology, and even the Wizard of Oz, The Escapement is the story of a man grieving a terminally ill child and the places his grief take him. As readers, we jump back and forth between the fantastical world of The Escapement to The Stranger's "real" life. His fantastical world is made up of images and scenes from his present and past reality- but twisted and turned inside out.
Since this is a book rich in ideas and the creation of a bizarre and original world, I found it harder to connect to the characters. The writing style, while visually descriptive, does not focus as much on the characters' internal thoughts and backstory as I would have liked. Also, I had some issues with the amount of characters who would pop up, narrate a story, and then disappear for the rest of the book.
However, The Escapement is so rich in metaphor, allusions and satire, it's a work of fantasy/sci fi that will continue to bring its readers new and interesting ways to read the story each time they come back to it. I'd highly recommend The Escapement if you like complex world building, philosophical musing, literary allusions and a well-crafted story.
* Thank you to Tachyon Publishing and NetGalley for an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.
How weird can we get?! Combining genre elements from just about every genre under the sun, Lavie can get very weird indeed. This Carnivale caper is genius, fun, and again, very weird.
I loved, loved, LOVED this book. It's a great atmospheric, circus, horror. It's a dark read full of great prose, and heavily refrencing other media I am a big fan of. However, it stands on it's own and is an amazing escape for fans of fantasy.
I'm a huge fan of Lavie Tidhar and I'm convinced he cannot write a bad or boring book. This book is exciting, dreamlike, and well written.
Fabolous world building, excellent storytelling and plot/character development.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
Grief, Denial, A Struggle Against Fate -- and Dark Humor.........
The Escapement is either an alternate, parallel, actual world, or it's the dream world created by a Father who has suffered a psychotic break because of the mortal illness of his young son. The beauty of this book is that you don't know which one of those options is true, either one could be true, and it really doesn't matter, because read either way the book is a complete success as either a bizarro adventure or as a meditation on life and death.
We follow the Father/Stranger as he travels the Escapement, like the Man with No Name from the Clint Eastwood "Dollars Trilogy". The comparison is acknowledged by the author and intentional. It is upon this frame that the rest of the novel is arranged. I'm pretty sure that "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" didn't have clowns, veiled references to Gilgamesh, a recreation of the Titanomachy, or a lot of insider circus jokes and references.
More to the point, for all of its bizarre asides, riffs, and set pieces, and for all of its deadpan humor and wry wit, and despite the surreal juxtaposition of clowns and western tropes, this is ultimately a book about love, despair, grief, and the painful challenge of letting go of a loved one. This is a book that will grab you and dazzle you.
(Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
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