Eyes On The Island''s holy hurricanes

Frank Reddy's debut blows readers off their feet.

Image STORM WARNING: Heavy rains spell disaster in Frank Reddy’s debut novel.Fiction Advocate

In Christianity, water is considered a pure agent; during baptism, immersion in water is meant to purify and regenerate. For pastor Will Fordham, however, water brings only disaster and ruin. Water killed Will’s father, it killed Will’s young son, and it’s all left him hollow: a wayward drunk, shunned even by the church congregation he once presided over. Only an island off the coast of Savannah offers Fordham a chance at salvation. So begins Eyes On The Island, the debut novel by Atlanta journalist Frank Reddy.

At a glance, Eyes On The Island appears to be your average tale of a broken man finding himself in nature, your typical Jack London-inspired fare. But Reddy instills in his readers hints of doubt from the very beginning. Will, diagnosed with epilepsy, has experienced strange visions from a young age. Creeping shadow-figures and images of giant clockwork gods haunt Reddy’s protagonist, and the question always hangs in the air: are they real?

“Speaking over the eerily robotic intonations of the weather radio, he chanted the verse. It was his mantra during times like these. The air lit up around him, tiny pixels of strange light that only he could see. He swore to others they were there. He saw them plain as day.”

Will travels to the island of Muskogee, owned by one Esther Campbell — an old widow, fighting developers attempting to seize the island through eminent domain loopholes — to serve as pastor to both Esther and the Muskogee artist’s colony. Will is embraced by the colony, most notably by a boy named John. John reminds Will of his deceased son, and Will is the spitting image of John’s father, a reporter who died under mysterious circumstances. The two are drawn to each other, but in bonding with John, Will is pulled into a deadly mystery revolving around the charismatic Maxwell Summerour, the self-appointed, unchallenged leader of the artist’s colony.

Reddy’s novel is deceptive and the air of uncertainty makes Eyes On The Island a gripping thriller. Will’s epilepsy is used to great effect, with only two appropriate exceptions, the reader sees the world through the filter of Will’s mind. Will’s symptoms strike randomly, strange images or seizure-induced blackouts interrupting scenes, no matter the intensity of the moment. It leaves readers scrambling for answers, thrown off-kilter as they — alongside Will — must ground themselves in the aftermath, wondering what happened in the space between consciousness.

Reddy forces readers to question what is real and what is not. Are John’s concerns figments of his imagination, born from a lost father and an ill-fitting environment? Is Will seeing the hidden truths of the world, or is he simply hallucinating as a result of his disorder? The uncertainty of the world leaves readers on edge, eager to turn the page. Thanks to the images vividly described during one of Will’s epileptic episodes, readers familiar with H.P. Lovecraft could easily be convinced that Eyes On The Island was a cosmic horror story in disguise.

Eyes On The Island is solid, particularly for a debut novel. But it has issues, mostly involving length. It only sinks in during the final quarter, but the book feels too short to end in good standing. It comes off as though Reddy’s priorities weren’t quite in order. The final chapters are a thrilling whirlwind of events, but they can move too quickly for readers to fully understand. A rushed, condensed 60 pages feels like it needed 100. Yet a number of sex scenes that seem to serve no narrative purpose are included feeling like relics of a dropped subplot.

There are a number of similar relics in this novel. The dismissal of these ideas, information, and the plot points they represent is the novel’s greatest tragedy. Things that should be plot-critical are built up and then disregarded, wasting space and souring the book’s resolutions.

Despite its rough ending, Eyes On The Island is a delightfully entertaining debut, and readers can expect to finish it in a single sitting.

Eyes On The Island by Frank Reddy. Tues., Oct. 11. Fiction Advocate. $12.95. 166pp.

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