the Little Red Reviewer

Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe

Posted on: August 23, 2017

Wisp of a Thing – a Tufa Novel, by Alex Bledsoe

published in 2013

where I got it: gift from a friend

 

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If you enjoyed Alex Bledsoe’s first Tufa novel, The Hum and the Shiver you’ll be happy to hear that, Wisp of a Thing is more of that. Not more of the same (not by a long shot), but more magical realism, more mists in the mountains hiding secrets that aren’t there for you to find – secrets that will reveal themselves in their own sweet time and in turns tease you, ignore you, or use you, along the way. The Tufa know what and who they are, and they know who us mortals are. Masters of staying hidden, the Tufa people usually have no interest in letting strangers in on their secrets.

Rob Quillen is learning about hiding. A finalist on a televised talent show, his girlfriend was killed in a plane crash on her way to see him compete in the finals. Drowning in grief, Rob just wants to hide from the world for a while. And where else to hide than the Great Smoky Mountains? Rob has the Tufa look about him, which may be why another singer told him of the Tufa music of Cloud County, Tennessee, and that if Rob found the right Tufa song, his broken heart would mend. Did this other singer think Rob a lost Tufa?

Upon arriving in the rustic village of Needsville, Rob discovers the most amazing music he’s ever heard. He hears it and enjoys it, but he sure doesn’t understand what’s just below the music, or what just the right circumstances allow him to see. It’s funny, because Rob thinks the universe revolves around him. It’s kinda cute and endearing how he thinks all this is about him. Rob is about to have the most surprising week of his life.

You know how the right piece of music can pull you right in? Maybe you’re having a bad day, maybe you’re restless and distracted, and then you listen to the soaring brassy themes of some John Williams music or the railroad track rumble and sizzle of distorted guitar in a rock song, or whatever kind of music floats your boat, and suddenly you feel centered and grounded? Alex Bledsoe’s writing is a bit like that too. His prose pulls you right in, pulls you right into a forgotten mountain town, pulls you right into secret histories, family feuds, and the forests and mists that hide it all.

Then it makes sense there would be music in this book, right? Oh yes, there is music! Wisp of a Thing is full of songs and verses, and these are words that have power. And people who have power tend to like to keep it, which means words have been hidden and buried. And the best person to find something that’s been buried is someone who is nearly a ghost herself.

I listen to a lot of rock music, I’ll sing along to just about anything from the early 70s to the alt-rock of today. I glory in the variations found in the patterns found in so many rock and pop songs, made internet famous by the Axis of Awesome, (also, can I just drown in Benny’s voice, please?) Some people say all this music sounds the same, and I’ll admit I get a kick out of listening to songs on the radio that I can sing lyrics to other songs such as Heart and Soul over it and it sounds fine. But on the other hand, it’s truly amazing to hear the variety created within the trappings of typical rock music – variety in guitar riffs, variety in lyric rhythms, variety in drumming – there is always something new to discover. The colors don’t match up, but rock music is a little like Mondrian’s primary color paintings. In this series of paintings, he limited himself to black, white, blue, red, and yellow. Five stark shades, yet people find depths of meaning in his artwork, each painting starting a different conversation, and a whole trend of color blocking. The patterns of rock and pop music aren’t limitations – they are signposts to all the places you can go.

All that to say I had a ton of fun with all the song lyrics in Wisp of a Thing. Written in a meter I’m familiar with, it was fun to “sing along” with all the song lyrics and metered poetry, and make up my own melodies. In fact, the entirety of Wisp of a Thing feels like a story-telling musical jam session that the reader, an outsider, has been given a once in a lifetime invitation to. All this magical realism mythology that Bledsoe is playing with? Less a trope or a limitation or “something that’s been done before”, but a signpost showing new directions.

My world has been full of distractions lately. Twitter, Candy Crush, youtube, cookbooks, bird watching in my neighborhood, literally anything to distract me from political news. Surrounding myself with the instant gratification of jumping from click to click and falling down YouTube black holes, sometimes it’s hard to focus on a book because my brain has gotten so trained to be easily distracted. Wisp of a Thing was an ideal distraction – as in, I didn’t want to put this book down. Everything was paced just right as characters slowly revealed themselves, and the story oh so gently pulled me right in to the point that I felt like I’d been there all along. I’d sit down planning to read for 20 minutes or so, and next thing I know I’ve read 100 pages. It was a little too bad that I zipped through this book as fast as I did, because now this particular song is over. Good thing Bledsoe has more Tufa novels and novellas available, and a handful more in the works.

So, if you like magical realism, if you like character driven narratives, family secrets, and music, this is a series you’ll probably enjoy. Actually, even if you don’t enjoy any of those things, give this series a try, because maybe you’ll discover something new to enjoy.  Oh crap, I just realized I barely told you anything about the plot of this novel. #SorryNotSorry.

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1 Response to "Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe"

Wow! This sounds intriguing. Will add to my TBR list. Thanks!

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