All Their Minds in Tandem – David Sanger

“Veterans: Are you fixing to forget?”

A mysterious man appears in a small town in West Virginia. Both seem haunted by the (American Civil) war, not so long over. As the stranger’s life mingles with those of the townsfolk – three sisters hiding their varying griefs, families torn apart by violence, the town bully and more – can his gift, the manipulation of memories, help them? And what of the strange doctor, the only man in town with too few memories – what dark secrets lie in his past?

I really wanted to like this book, it sounded so quirky and mysterious and the 1800s setting was a nice change (and fairly well done, I thought). But… it really was only ‘ok’, not great. The story never lives up to the promise of the blurb (“Twin Peaks in the 1800s” – just, no), rather meandering through the entangled lives of several of New Georgetown’s residents.

At first, the book is excellent at setting up various mysteries. Who is the strange figure above the bar, never seen but playing the most beautiful music? Why can’t the doctor remember his past? What dark family secrets sent the Marianne sisters’ uncle into seclusion in the woods? It’s not that these aren’t answered, mainly, but I just never felt the answers lived up to the initial hype.

It seemed to me like the author had a lot of ideas (possibly too many), a lot of (sometimes very cool!) images in his head – like the locomotive train rusting in the forest – that are introduced as if they will have great importance, but then never do. Why is the main character introduced as ‘The Maker’, a title which is dropped early on and never repeated or explained? We circle back to some events, sometimes via flashbacks, but overall the tapestry was just a little too loose for me – perhaps I’m expecting too much plot, when this is more of a ‘literary’ novel? Certainly the flowery language – more than a few rather overblown descriptions, alas – suggests that was the aim. Hmm, says I.

Either way, I do object to the biggest, climatic event seemingly happening at the three-quarters mark. This leaves quite a large chunk of novel tasked with not-really-tying-up some of the lesser ‘mysteries’. The ending is… well, I’ll go with partly satisfying, more than I was expecting given the oddness of the tone.

Overall: if it had lost half of the twirly descriptions and poetic meanderings, I probably would have enjoyed this more as a quirky little tale rather than a slightly over-long, possibly overly-ambitious, and ultimately a tad disappointing novel.

NetGalley eARC: ~464 pages / 42 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: none
Read from 21st-28th March 2016

My rating: 5/10

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