Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review of Metronome by Oliver Langmead

Likely the most common first impression of Oliver Langmead’s debut novel Dark Star is the fact it is written in epic verse. But surely what keeps asses in the seats is the strong story complemented by stronger visuals. A dark backdrop offset by flashes of neon and static as the detective noir spins its web, it is a book that can be enjoyed from several angles. Not giving in to gimmick (thankfully), Langmead, for his follow up novel, abandons epic verse but sticks to his strong suit. Evoking image and scene splashily, Metronome (2017, Unsung Stories) features adventures and quests through dreams, the aesthetics continually inching toward fireworks.

But Metronome begins innocently enough. James Manderlay is a client at a home for the elderly. A former songwriter, he collects paltry royalty checks while trying to keep his sanity in a place seemingly full of people off their rockers. The age and steadiness of his hands betraying his daily tasks, it seems only in dreams do they respond completely to his commands. Nightmares lurking in dark corners, his travels through dreams seem more often escapes rather than journeys. That is, until he meets a man killing nightmares, and is given a strange but useful compass. The dreams taking more concrete shape in the aftermath, nights become less dark and more adventurous.


Another way of putting all this is that Metronome seems a Ballardian allegory without the edgy anxiety. Far more of the purely fantastical, Metronome is an adventure-quest through the imaginative, rather than clinically psychological, side of dreams. Attempting to make it all more immediate, Langmead employs the present tense—whose success will largely depend on reader opinion of the tactic. The story’s reality shifting continually underfoot, the present tense likewise serves to keep pace moving. Because, if there is anything Metronome is not lacking, it’s pace.

In the end, Metronome takes the aesthetic success of Dark Star and utilizes it in a new, colorful, and dynamic adventure/quest that takes full advantage of the fantastical potential for dreams. At times perhaps a bit too dynamic, Langmead perpetually keeps the momentum moving, rarely stopping to sniff the literal and figurative flowers of his vibrant dream universe—one wildly imaginative scene following upon another. Then again, perhaps that’s a nice parallel to real dreams?

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