‘The Commons: The Journeyman’ is a delightfully unusual book that spans multiple genres. It takes place in the Commons, a place between life and death, something like purgatory for Christians and the Bardo of Becoming for Buddhists. On the surface it’s fantasy, but, like my own work, it’s also metaphysical fiction and, because of the psychological symbolism, magical realism. “We are the stories we tell ourselves,” is one of the metaphysical gems.
This is an example of the best of indie fiction; it’s a bold, brilliant work at the forefront of an exciting new direction in contemporary fiction that is so far out of the box that mainstream publishers would likely see it only as a risk. Books with this mix of metaphysics, fantasy and magical realism are becoming more prevalent—the indies are way ahead of the mainstream here—but few of these books are as well executed as this one.
The story follows Paul, a teen, Zach, an autistic five year old and his mother, Annie, after their deaths in a bus crash. Each must undertake a challenging journey, at the end of which they will either continue on in death or return to life. Everyone is supposed to take such a journey when in the Commons, but a man by the name of Brill has perverted that function by stealing the souls of the newly dead to feed his power. If Paul and his friends can complete their journeys, they will break Brill’s power, or at least put a crack in it.
Along with Paul goes a shotgun-toting goth girl, a six-foot-six mummy, a mute Shaolin monk with anger-management issues, and the last of the guides. The world they walk through is a vibrant mix of remnants from people’s imaginations, both the strange and the wonderful. It would be easy in the hands of a lesser author to lose the plot in this jumbled world and overwhelm the reader with the highly imaginative imagery, but Peck has maintained the clarity and focus of the three journeys and woven them skilfully together to deliver a strong and unpredictable plot.
Varied sentence constructions make for interesting prose. It flows well and is nicely punctuated with short pithy statements. I highly recommend this book to all who are a little jaded by the usual reading fare. Here, you’ll find something truly extraordinary. I recommend this book for an AIA Seal of Excellence.