Ac­tion, genre-bend­ing and a taste of phi­los­o­phy

FICTION

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - ALEX GOOD Spe­cial to the Star

Genre fiction is made health­ier through cross­breed­ing. In “The Blinds” Adam Stern­bergh, who grew up in Toronto and now lives in Brook­lyn, has cre­ated a mul­ti­lay­ered hy­brid of a novel strength­ened by sev­eral dif­fer­ent blood­lines.

In the first place we might think of it as a west­ern. Calvin Cooper is the sher­iff of the town of Caesura, a place known lo­cally (and less pre­ten­tiously) as “The Blinds.” It’s a dusty desert town, or “glo­ri­fied trailer park, “set down in the mid­dle of a West Texas nowhere, with the only link to the out­side world be­ing a weekly mail-and-sup­plies run and a clunky fax ma­chine.

Sher­iff Cooper doesn’t have much to do in “The Blinds,” see­ing as there are only about 50 res­i­dents and he’s the only one with a gun. Or at least he’s sup­posed to be the only one with a gun. The west­ern turns into a mys­tery when res­i­dents of “The Blinds” start turn­ing up dead.

What makes solv­ing the mys­tery tricky is a sci­ence-fiction spin. You see, the res­i­dents of “The Blinds” have had their mem­o­ries se­lec­tively wiped as part of an ad­vanced “fresh start” pro­gram for crim­i­nals. The town is ac­tu­ally a kind of pe­nal colony. So the ques­tion of “who­dunit?” is com­pli­cated by the fact that no­body even knows who he or she re­ally is.

This is just the setup, but things get even weirder. In some ways “The Blinds” re­sem­bles M. Night Shya­malan’s “The Vil­lage,” with lay­ers of mys­tery en­fold­ing the town and its his­tory that are only grad­u­ally re­vealed. Also like Shya­malan’s movie are the many rapid­fire and bizarre plot twists that come at the end.

On a deeper level, “The Blinds” is a novel that asks in­ter­est­ing ques­tions about how our mem­o­ries make us who we are. The na­ture vs. nur­ture ar­gu­ment over crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity is ly­ing in the back­ground here. Is some­one who can no longer re­mem­ber their past crimes still re­spon­si­ble for them, or even the same per­son who com­mit­ted them? And to what ex­tent do the sub­jects in this pro­gres­sive ex­per­i­ment still have free will?

Th­ese philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions are sec­ondary, how­ever, to the busy, ac­tion-filled plot.

“The Blinds” is first and fore­most a fun read, or re­ally about half-adozen reads rolled to­gether in one.

ED­WIN TSE

“The Blinds,” by Adam Stern­bergh, Ecco, 400 pages, $33.50.

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