Book Review: Commendable Delusions
Reviewed by Joshua Ryan Bligh
At once entirely absurd and unsettlingly real
A.T. French’s Commendable Delusions provides a breadcrumb trail of ten magical realist stories, each nestled in some unique nook of dream-tinted reality far from the bustle of cities and quotidian life. Some resemble parables, others fairytales, and yet others more modern narratives. But through them all is a golden thread of meaning and humor that brings the disparate landscapes together into a unique collection that can capture a curious mind, tantalizing with glimpses of hidden pastures and worlds secreted behind the veil of shared reality.
Airplanes, arid planes, and farmlands; each tale takes its venue and gently warps it into something surreal, serving as wholly engaging vehicles for the author’s messages on perception, connection, and our place in a jumbled reality. Each story framed as being told by an attendant of Aux Folies, an esoteric inner sanctum of the narrator, the atmosphere ranges from comedic to macabre with ease. Corn spectacle and mania, crystal skulls hung from trees, sawdust skies over carnivorous hens, and visions of chocolate oligarchs. The rug of normality is ripped from beneath our feet, leaving the reader in a whirling free-fall of imagination that continues well past the final story’s close.
As with the best of magical realism, French’s stories use the unknown and unreal to provide better understanding of the world around the reader. Each story appears built around a message or moral, though never so bluntly as to feel it being said outright. Instead, the author weaves his meaning into corners of the text, ideas and philosophies given in minute glimpses that leave the reader to draw their own conclusions and make their own realizations, rewarding curiosity and attentiveness with a sense of personal discovery.
French does well to create his individual style and ambiance, but I can’t help but draw comparisons to Jorge Luis Borges or Haruki Murakami, only to better prepare the reader for the joy to come upon reading these stories. Borges for the sense of lurking esoterica and secret cabals, and Murakami for the unpredictability and grasping of hidden worlds. Though I stress this comparison only for its similarity to the final effect on the reader: a sense of whetting one’s sense inquiry and readiness for viewing the world with fresh eyes.
Commendable Delusions is one of those hidden gems, a read that I’m glad has intersected my path. In only ten pieces, it does what the best of stories do: it at once imparts wisdom, inspires the mind, and entertains with a sense of playful joy.
Genre: Short Story Collection / Magical Realism
Print Length: 308 pages
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