Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Debut Fiction - JOHN M. MUR­RAY

Matthew Stephen Sirois, Belle Lutte Press (SEPTEM­BER), Soft­cover $16 (340pp) 978-0-9973260-4-8

Near Haven takes on the apoc­a­lypse with lit­er­ary flair and shin­ing prose. In Near Haven, by Matthew Stephen Sirois, a loom­ing apoc­a­lypse puts life into per­spec­tive. This is a con­tem­pla­tive and vi­o­lently en­gag­ing char­ac­ter study.

In an al­ter­nate 1987, life grinds to a sud­den halt with the dis­cov­ery of a ce­les­tial threat to Earth. Tom Beau­mont de­cides to keep work­ing on his con­tract to build and sail a ship. De­spite be­ing an ap­pren­tice ship­builder, Tom is con­sid­ered by the lo­cals to be an out­sider, and he finds few al­lies among the re­main­ing com­mu­nity, bid­ing time un­til the apoc­a­lypse. As Tom makes con­nec­tions, pre­pares to sail, and dis­cov­ers that his feral cat is preg­nant, hints that the dead­line may be ex­ag­ger­ated cast doubt on the fu­ture.

Near Haven evokes Cor­mac Mccarthy’s The Road, if with­out an ac­tual apoc­a­lypse. In­ter­est­ingly, gov­ern­ments col­lapse and the peo­ple turn to vi­o­lence with just the threat of a comet slam­ming into Earth in a year. The prose is po­etic and in­tro­spec­tive but punc­tu­ated with ex­plo­sive vi­o­lence—quite lit­er­ally, as when, in be­tween Tom’s rem­i­nisc­ing and doubt­ing the ve­rac­ity of the comet’s threats, he ig­nites a ve­hi­cle and kills sev­eral peo­ple. The quiet bits and the pulse-pound­ing ac­tion serve to ex­am­ine moral­ity and ethics in an un­usual sit­u­a­tion.

Di­a­logue is used to in­ter­est­ing ef­fect. The lo­cals of Near Haven speak with the stereo­typ­i­cal Maine accent, but the char­ac­ters who doubt the comet tend to speak a blander and more for­mal English. Sev­eral times, Tom makes lit­er­ary al­lu­sions and im­me­di­ately re­tracts his com­ments to avoid ex­plain­ing them and fur­ther alien­at­ing him­self. Ad­di­tion­ally, when Tom and a friendly lo­cal con­verse, a seem­ingly forced bon­homie slowly tran­si­tions into ac­tual friend­ship, and Tom’s for­mal fa­cade weak­ens.

De­spite fea­tur­ing sci-fi tropes, Near Haven takes on the apoc­a­lypse with lit­er­ary flair, fea­tur­ing stel­lar char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, snappy di­a­logue, and an ap­pro­pri­ately am­bigu­ous end­ing that shines with flow­ing prose.

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