Welcome back! Finally, a new post on A&A. I’ve been reading quite a few novels lately, and as such have been slacking on the writing aspect of things recently. My apologies. I think this is mostly due to the fact that I haven’t read much recently that I was compelled to write about. However, after finishing Maze, I knew I couldn’t sit around and not say something about it. There’s so much within this book to talk about that I hardly know where to start. I guess, I could narrow it down into three topics, the first being my general impression, McDermott’s treatment of time in the novel, and finally I’ll attempt to discuss any themes I think are relevant. By the time I’m all finished with that, my head should have successfully exploded and you should have a pretty good idea as to whether or not you want to give this thing a read (hint: you do!). Ok, here we go!
In a word, Wow. I’m not familiar with J.M. McDermott, or any of his other work, but now I’d like to be. Maze follows the story of a village which must fight for survival against a myriad of strange creatures both known and unknown. I always think of mazes as 2D in as much as they eventually lead to one place and you’re confined by the walls and the pathways laid out for you. This is not the case in Maze. Trouble lurks around every corner but also in the sky and below the ground. McDermott makes use of all three dimensions and possibly a 4th if we count time as well. It’s pretty amazing to me that anything survives in this crazy world of McDermott’s creation. The horrors just keep coming. And it’s not just the Minotaur in front of you that you need to watch out for but your brother beside you who covets your wife. Or maybe the chill of the winter and poisoned blood of the . . . whatever you happen to be chewing on.
McDermott’s writing style is perfect for the task at hand. His clipped prose and liberal use of repetition really bring readers into the minds of the characters. So closely are you aligned with them that you might as well be in the maze yourself. You can almost taste the maggots (yea gross right? This is a world where people eat maggots on the regular). The only thing that sets you apart (besides eating maggots) is that you see five different points of view throughout the story. There seem to be many threads that tie each of these sections (called Mazes) together but you have to watch closely and it’s often still unclear as to what the relations mean. You have enough information to know that there is a larger picture, but that picture was painted by M.C. Escher.
Oh dear look at the time-
Despite the fact that you have characters arriving from all different points in history (from neanderthals to women who live in space), there does seem to be a progression as far as the ‘village’ is concerned. This ‘progression’, in spite of all the chaos, is what I find most intriguing about the novel.The members work together to survive and each year it seems like they’re better at it than the year before. When the reader first arrives in The Maze, there’s a feeling of chaos that can be quite overwhelming. And while the monsters and other creatures are certainly based on myths and legends, there is something mythic about the start. This scene, at least in my mind, seems to mimic the dawn of awareness. It’s as if, the rest of what has occurred in the Maze is simply chaos while the first character’s arrival, begins the movement towards order. This first character (Maia) is from the future, a scientist who, without any of the advancements of her former society, must survive using the simplest of tools. When she is taken in by the other villagers, she can only use tools as advanced as the village has become. She tries to teach her daughter about bacteria and germs, but because the villagers have not yet progressed through the other modes of though which precede this way of thinking, her daughter cannot grasp what she is attempting to teach. Also, just because Maia’s arrival seems to signal the beginning of something resembling order, that does not mean that there isn’t plenty more chaos to ensue.
Without a second read through (or perhaps a third, fourth or fifth), it will be tough to attempt any discussion of the themes present within this novel. There seem to be plenty, but as I mentioned before, they are obscured enough that it isn’t clear if McDermott has a deliberate message which he is attempting to convey. For instance, religion does not seem to play a very large role in the beginning or middle of the novel. It is mentioned that different members of the village believe in different gods, and their beliefs are different depending on what point in time they came from. Some members do not seem to hold any belief at all which I would think would mean that religion is either a) not important to the novel or b) religion is something to be discouraged. However, as we read about Julie Station and Lucius Caveman, it seems to be very important thematically. I mean, certainly the name Lucius Caveman is a bit loaded. And his adulterous relationship with Julie is in direct conflict with what he professes to believe. It first seems easy to chalk Lucius off as a hypocrite but as we learn more about him he is more sympathetic. In fact he starts becoming so devout that it turns Julie into something of a succubus and we lose sympathy for her. Needless to say, my feelings were all tangled up. I wasn’t sure what to think. Maybe that’s the point.
Anyway, please give J.M. McDermott’s Maze a read through. And also when y’all have read it, please leave some comments below. I’d love to get a good discussion going on this novel as there is plenty to talk about. As far as logistics are concerned, the novel is put out by Apex Publications and releases today. Here’s the link.