Alison by Andrew Humphrey is the long awaited first venture in ages** into novel publishing by TTA Press. It finally hit the streets in February and my copy arrived at the weekend. Now, I don’t have a lot of time for reading at the moment, but whenever I get a new book I can never resist checking it out.
As you would expect of a TTA product, Alison is a beautifully designed and produced artifact. The cover design by David Gentry is clean, attractive and deliciously ambiguous; it reminded me of the old Barrington slipstream anthologies, but more modern. It was so attractive I was unable to resist a peek at the first page – and was instantly hooked. It’s a total page-turner. I finished it in a day and a half.
I’ve read a lot of Andrew’s short fiction. His first collection, Open The Box, was one of Elastic Press’s first titles, and his second, Other Voices, will be appear from the same publisher imminently. Both are recommended, but the short stories didn’t prepare me for how skillful and powerful the novel would be.
Alison tells the story of a man whose partner has died, alternate chapters playing off the retrospective charting of the progress of their relationship against his hurt, blundering attempts to discover why she died. It’s a dark story involving a small circle of close friends and family, and in its essence has a few poignant thing to say about the fact that we never know everything about those close to us, and it’s probably for the best that we don’t.
The only quibble I had about it was the decision to present the “happening now” chapters in the present tense. I suppose it was intended to differentiate them from the retrospective chapters, but there are less jarring ways of doing this. It’s not, by any means, though, a major issue.
Alison is full of sharp characterisation and pointed, naturalistic, dialogue. It’s a captivating story that won’t let you go until you’ve discovered all there is to know about characters you came quickly to care about. And by then it’ll be too late.
Very, very good indeed.
**Edit: Alison is of course not the first novel TTA has produced. Allen Ashley’s “The Planet Suite” and Ray Naylor’s “American Graveyards” were both excellent publications. Maybe I just wish they’d do it more often.