Thomas Mullen + blizzard = a good day!

Today is awesome for so many reasons.

1. I finished the second full draft of my novel!
2. There’s a blizzard so I have to stay home from work! (see the view from my office window to the side)
3. In anticipation of said blizzard, I went out last night to buy Thomas Mullen‘s new novel The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers and after only 25 pages I’m in love!
Actually, I was in love with Mullen’s new novel by the end of its two-page prologue. And I originally began my love affair with his work two years ago when I read The Last Town On Earth for a book club.
(I only made it through two books with that group – Last Town and Roth’s Everyman [yuck to that book, by the way] – before running as fast as I could. It was a ragtag group established by a couple on and weirdoes kept dropping in. I vowed never to come back when one yeti-like man explained he had joined our group to make some friends since Craigslist wasn’t working for him – he was only getting solicited by men on that site. Dude, shave that beard, get a haircut, stop oozing desperation, and definitely stop being a close talker. Nobody likes a close talker. Then maybe you’ll make some friends.)

Anyway, I went nuts over The Last Town On Earth. I read sections aloud to anyone who would listen or who I could follow around the house (sorry, Mom). I recommended the book to everyone I knew, even forcing it on my brother. Luckily, he liked it. We might not be so tight if he hadn’t understood how awesome that book was.
Mullen has a way of conjuring evocative moments at pivotal times throughout the book, mainly at chapter ends. I’ll share my favorite moment that made me want to cry, it was so beautiful. I saw the scene and felt the scene and understood the skill that was behind it.
Quick context: During World War I, the residents of a mill town has gathered to decide if they should quarantine the town due to the influenza epidemic. By the end of Chapter Two, the town has voted to close its doors. Men willing to stand guard on the road in and out of town are moving to stand at the front of the room.
Beside her, Philip stood, and as he took his first step toward the line, Rebecca started to raise her hand instinctively to grab his shoulder, to pull him to his seat and tell him he was making a mistake. He was only sixteen! He should not stand out there and hold a gun against whoever might happen upon the town. But before she could grab him, he had stepped beyond her, into that long line, sidling up beside Graham, who nodded at his unofficial brother and patted him twice on the shoulder.

For many years Rebecca would remember that shoulder clasp and the way Philip’s back seemed to straighten under the weight of Graham’s hand.
I got all emotional just typing that out. Ok, let’s talk about craft while I blow my nose.
Mullen uses “free indirect speech” as James Wood calls it to bring the reader closer to Rebecca’s fear. (“He was only sixteen!”) We know the thought and hear is hers and not the authors. The lack of authorial presence transmits the emotion more directly to the reader – the middleman is cut out.
And can we talk about the simple choice of the word “beyond” instead of something more typical like ‘past’? He had stepped past her does not resonate the way he had stepped beyond her does. Beyond connotes a distance farther than one step. Beyond indicates more than physical movement. Philip is moving beyond his mother toward the realm of men and adulthood. And I called it a simple choice like knowing how to fill a single word with so much meaning is easy. Well, maybe it was for Mullen, but, as he mentioned in his email to me (Right? Ha! More about that later.) he did pay a lot of attention to the passages at the end of the chapters and most likely he focused on word choice, resulting in sublime choices like beyond.

Did I mention I have a writer crush on Mullen? He and Tobias Wolff rock my world. If you don’t know the works of either of them, run out right now and get them.

Well, I just looked out the window again and maybe you shouldn’t go out right now to buy their books – not if you live in Philadelphia or Delaware or Jersey. But you could order them online and have them delivered to your door in just a couple of days. It’ll be like Christmas all over again.

Maybe the atrocious weather will mean I get to stay home tomorrow as well. More time to read The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers!!


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