Monday, April 2, 2018
Book Review: 'Strohm Alley' by M. Bryce Ternet
Indiana-born Idaho author M. Bryce Ternet has experienced many climes, having lived in Montana, Paris, the French Basque Country, Burgundy, Chicago, Washington state, Washington DC, and on California's Monterey Peninsula: food for many stories. His degrees are in Political Science and French and a Master's degree in International Environmental Policy. Bryce’s genres reflect his global exposure – he writes historical fiction, thrillers, paranormal stories, psychological themes, reflections on contemporary society, travelogues as well as articles on food and wine!
In STROM ALLEY his focus is on a psychological coming of age theme reflecting his penchant for painting with suspense and the thriller mode. In a sensitive Author’s Note Bryce states – ‘The writing of Strohm Alley was a revealing experience for me, as the city of Tarkington doubles as a fictional version of my hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. The name of Tarkington is taken from the great gentleman writer from Indiana, Booth Tarkington. Describing the interplay of memories and dreams encountered by the protagonist of the story was enlightening as some of my own childhood memories are interspersed in fictionalized form throughout the story. I suppose each of us has a destiny to confront in our own Strohm Alley. Efforts to convey the psychological aspects of the story were enhanced by my study of the works ‘Searching for Memory’ (Schacter) and ‘REM Illumination’ (Walter). As for dealing with symptoms of depression, I deeply sympathize with anyone confronting this potentially debilitating condition.’
With such fine credentials and sensitivity it is a pleasure to discover that Bryce couple his experiences with a keen talent for writing. Before we meet our main character Brian, Bryce opens his opus with a taste of the quality of writing to come: ‘His eyes shot open. Was he awake or still dreaming? He wasn’t sure. He stared at the alarm clock next to the bed. It had glaring red numbers…like a stop sign. His eyes attempted to adjust to the dimmed lighting of the room. A stream tunneled through the blinds of the bedroom window. He didn’t move. Lately, his dreams had been nightmares. He often woke from them to only find himself trapped in the same nightmare, wishing for an escape. This time was no different. It felt as if was awake, but there was no way to be sure. He felt a cold dampness covering him. At times he struggled to wake up from the heavy folds of a panic attack. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding out of his chest…it always felt like he was dying. His body felt light on the bed, as if it were lifting from the sheets and comforter. He mustered the courage to move an arm. But it was a considerable effort. He watched his arm rise from the comforter. Breathing a deep sigh of relief, he used it to turn off the alarm before it began to scream again. There was no way he was going back to sleep.’
The synopsis prepares us for the plot – ‘Brian Holliday is a man haunted by his dreams and memories of Strohm Alley. He ponders how his memories intermingle with his dreams, while struggling to hide from both. The blurred memory of a childhood incident on a humid Indiana summer day is seemingly inescapable, and the memory is promulgated by those around him, both benignly and malignantly. As Brian wrestles with confronting his past and how it has determined his present, he faces the question of whether or not he is prepared to interpret his own existence.
It is evident we are in the presence of an important American writer who manages to lock us into his fine story and while being placed in the suspense mode, allows us to appreciate quality prose. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, March 18
Editor's note: This article was originally published at Long and Short Reviews. It has been republished with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.