Here is preview information about Michael’s new novel, including genre and a portrait of the main character.
Michael W. Thomas: The Erkeley Summer
1967 is called by some the Summer of Love. For Jonathan Parry, it is certainly the summer of changes: he and his parents are emigrating to Canada. There is a round of farewells to relatives, formalities to see to, loose ends to tie up. One evening in the last week of the summer term, he and his two closest friends, Bevvo Hunter and Gordy Forbes, go down to the Erkeley, a stretch of ground beside their school. It is Gordy’s idea: they can mooch about and Jonathan can sign off from the place for old times’ sake. Waiting there is old Tafler, ‘the Lord of Erkeley,’ a harmless tramp for whom the place is home. Also waiting, however, is Jonathan’s nemesis, Pete Wiznuk, and his two thuggish sidekicks. They have set about Jonathan often enough in school. Now they set about the trio of friends—with consequences which pursue Jonathan across the Atlantic and into manhood. Every human being has only so much in reserve. Finally, with neither family nor friends, he uses up his last ounce—because the consequences are truly devilish.
Jonathan’s only legacy is the tale of his life, which fills a substantial note-book. There might be embroidery, there might be untruth, there might not: the tale uses so many tactics to persuade, rationalise, sue for sympathy. The note-book finds its way into the hands of Will Apland, a police-officer in Saskatoon. One of the officers who discovered Jonathan in his apartment, Will has the prospect of a weekend alone coming up while his wife and children are with her parents for Hallowe’en. Settling down in his den, he reads all about Jonathan but soon has occasion to feel deeply unsettled: by the story itself and by what it reveals to him about family, about actions and their fallout—about the whole business of living. Will is no fool but he was hoping to remain uninvolved as he read Jonathan’s life story—like a smoking-room listener out of Dickens, he tells himself. The reality, he finds, is the exact opposite. These might be the words of a stranger but they soon become disturbingly eloquent about Will’s own life and history.
What you want the reader to understand and take away from reading the story?
I think that this compact novel falls the categories of realism and also modern gothic. I want the reader to be absorbed: to enjoy a good pacey tale for its own sake. I also want them, however, to consider how all of us might only be a hair’s breadth from making an error which casts a long dark shadow over our entire lives—or worse; and that sometimes, the old mantra that ‘everything comes right in the end’ is far from enough. Even the simple act of reading about someone else’s misfortune might have implications. Once we have read or heard about it, we may not simply be able to walk away and convince ourselves that we remain unaffected. And if we are affected, we may always be. Their shadow somehow becomes ours.
A character description for Jonathan:
Jonathan Parry is an only child. Not a complete loner, he nonetheless finds the world a place which demands negotiation. But he strikes terms with it, in his fashion. With his friends Bevvo and Gordy, he is very much third fiddle. His parents fulfil their obligations to him but his relationship with them is remote—as is his relationship with his larger family. There are others, people whom he sees as members of a real, possibly idealised family: Mrs Butler, for example, a neighbour from his childhood; and, when he is growing up in Canada, a couple of housemates at college. But these are fleeting figures, defined by the happenstance of time and place. A sad paradox is that, once he is at college, he comes as far into his own as he is going to. The ideal life for him would be the academic one, sheltered from what he calls the chill wind of the world. But the consequences of that evening at the Erkeley make it impossible for him to reach his full potential, in work or as a person. Still, as the devilishness unfolds, he displays remarkable tenacity, as though defying the darkness to do its worst. But he can never, it seems, face his responsibilities. He did, after all, bring that darkness into being.
What drew you to this story, what inspired you?
I drew upon where I grew up and the fact that I lived in Canada—including the west, Saskatchewan—for many years. Had circumstances not dictated otherwise, I would never have come back here. Three things, perhaps, provided the inspiration: a clear sense of Jonathan; his childhood surroundings; and the settings and culture he experienced after emigrating. Added to this was my wish to preserve memories but also to set them to work, so to speak, in a clear and forward-rolling narrative.