January-February 2014 | GHOSTS OF THE PAST




In Noah, writer/architect Thomas Clark crafts a compelling tale of loss and loneliness that spans both ends of the timeline

Written By: Nick Brandi

How well do you think you would do if you lost everything that mattered to you because of that one solitary moment you forgot to protect it? It could happen to anyone. It certainly happened to Ben Tucker, the hapless protagonist of Thomas Clark’s Noah.
The novel devotes the majority of its 352 pages to the period of Ben’s life 40 years after that tragic day — a day from which he never recovered, one that has haunted him during every day that followed. With ties to nothing and no one, the reclusive Ben decides to get out of Florida for a while and head north to parts unknown. He eventually lands in Hargrove, Md., where he rents a small apartment in the house of Sandra Lucas and her four-year-old son, Noah. While residing there, two things happen to Ben that he didn’t expect: First, he discovers that his new landlady is steeped in complete denial about her abusive relationship with Sonny the car salesman; second, he forms a strong bond with Noah — the only he’s formed in 40 years. These events become an increasingly unignorable dilemma for Ben as Sandra’s dangerous liaison spills over onto Ben’s rented doorstep.
An architect by trade, Thomas Clark has constructed a beautiful edifice worthy of his vocation — so beautiful, in fact, that in meticulously piecing together the constituents of its elegant design, he simultaneously lays the groundwork for the heaping frustration that comes with its conclusion. Just like an old literary pro, Clark gracefully alternates among a quartet of tales — Ben, Noah, Sandra and county sheriff T.J. Barnes — even being so bold as to go back and forth in time, ultimately weaving the plot into a compelling cocktail of gripping suspense. 
The author gets you to the point where you are willing to postpone almost anything you should be attending to, just to feed the addictive need to turn another page. As these parallel stories converge, however, leaving you practically screaming with anticipation, trying your utmost to restrain the impulse to predict exactly how and through whom the derisible antagonist will get his final comeuppance, the narrative falls off a cliff and plunges into a bay of impatience, rushing through the most climactic moments instead of making time seem to stand still so that we may savor and revel in every tasty morsel of what we had waited for so anxiously throughout the novel’s 42 chapters. There is one character in particular (no names, no spoilers) who receives a big buildup from early in the story who winds up playing essentially no role whatsoever in the story’s denouement, leaving Book Smart feeling thoroughly cheated of the emotional satisfaction that character had promised to deliver.
Playwright Anton Chekhov once said, "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” The principle is called “Chekhov’s gun,” and it simply means that every element in a narrative should be necessary and irreplaceable and that everything else should be removed. While Book Smart isn’t prepared to be quite that absolute when it comes to fiction writing, especially a novel, it does feel that if one uses ink and pulp (or binary code and cyberspace) to draw special attention to something in the narrative, that thing must at the very least prove to be of greater significance later in the story if not figure prominently into the resolution itself.
For a variety of reasons, Book Smart shies away from negative reviews; it would rather print no review at all. That Noah represents an exception to this policy is, on no uncertain terms, the highest compliment it could bestow on its author. It’s Book Smart’s way of saying that this book is too expertly constructed and well written — and therefore too important — to ignore by sweeping it off the edge of the reviewer’s table and into the pile of lesser, unworthy texts. So, let’s be crystal clear: With everything else that’s been said, Noah is still well worth reading, and Book Smart does recommend it because of everything it does so right. If in some future edition its resolution were rewritten and expanded, Noah could easily become a local literary masterpiece and by far the best novel Book Smart has read to date.
By Thomas Clark
Paperback: 352 pages
Copyright © (2011)
Two Harbors Press

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