Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The White Hairs by Noah Mullette-Gillman

Rating: 4.1 out of 5

A couple reviews ago I spent some time describing stories and their ideas and how sometimes the potency of one doesn’t match the other. However, one type I failed to list are the tales whose ideas are fully fleshed out, meaty, and beautiful, yet whose writing lags a bit behind. For a perfect example of this, I can point to “Atlas Shrugged” or “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. These are two books whose concepts are striking in their completion, yet the function and form of the stories don’t quite measure up. In instances such as these, the lack of literary prowess is easily ignored – at least by this reviewer – for it is what they have to say that is important.

I found myself thinking of these types of tales while reading “The White Hairs”, a novella of surprising depth by author Noah Mullette-Gillman. Within is presented the story of Farshoul, a yeti-like creature who lives in the icy mountaintop regions of some unnamed place in some unnamed (though somewhat modern) time. He and his people have lived atop these mountains for centuries, isolated from the human race. They are an unexpectedly sophisticated race of beings, seemingly more advanced than man in terms of intellect and spiritual understanding. As is their right of passage, these White Hairs, as they’re called, “travel” – or astral project – to both further their understanding of the nature of their souls and help to strengthen their sense of community. It is here, during one of these traveling ceremonies, that we first meet Farshoul.

Farshoul has a different experience than his brethren. Whereas they dance about and interact with each other while away from their bodies, he can see none of them. He goes off on his own to explore, and through this exploration he discovers what it is like to be the wind, sees the forces of nature at work in ways beyond his imagination, and even comes to respect the way humans band together to create beauty during the more dire and hopeless moments.

The problem is that Farshoul’s experience is so outside those of his peoples’, they don’t believe him. They say he is imagining things, that the rituals might be dangerous for him. This causes him to go out and experiment with the process on his own, which leads to him being away from his body for a long period of time and eventually running across a demon who wishes to devour the very soul he is flittering about within. It is due to this confrontation that Farshoul is stripped of his sight, of his feelings, of his innocence, and is left to exist for the next thirty years as a shell of the being he once was.

(To add to this, I have to say it is a brilliant metaphor for growing up as a spiritual being. We grasp on to our religions as children, and they are perfect. Yet we grow older, and we see the ugliness out there, even in those we trust. Our faith is diminished, and that virtuousness is gone. Just as with Farshoul, food doesn’t taste as good, play isn’t as fulfilling, and people begin to look untrustworthy. Call it growing up if you will…I’ll call it Gaining Harmful Knowledge, and just like Farshoul, we spend the rest of our lives trying to reclaim that lost innocence.)

I wouldn’t be doing this book any justice if I didn’t mention how darn beautiful it is. The imagery is ethereal and salient. The reflections are complex and sometimes somber. We are shown the world through the shadow of a ghost, and are left to feel the pain of this astounding creature when he is reduced from his previously innocent and na├»ve adventurer into an angry and often violent stoic.

The ways the ideas themselves are presented are cause for attention, as well. There are many put forth; some are explained, some aren’t. And yet, there is no sense of finality to any of them. It is almost as if the author measured all the belief systems in this world of ours, considered them equally valid, and now tells us, “who are we to say there is only one way?” This, along with the fairy-tale, otherworldly feel that the tale possesses, doesn’t just border on brilliance. It becomes so.

However, there is a downside to the book, and that is the writing. At times it flows smoothly, other times not so much. The author is taken to overuse of adverbs, at times placing them so close together they become redundant. The tone can go from intricate to childlike and back again, without the flow of the tale justifying the shift. I found this a little frustrating, but in the end, I chose to ignore it as far as my enjoyment of the story was concerned, because it had so much magnificence to offer. As a reviewer, however, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point them out.

In closing, I have to say that this little gem is definitely worth the read. And the lack of proper structure and pacing doesn’t ruin the experience. If anything, all it accomplishes is to take a book that could have been great and makes it very, very good.

It is my hope that author Mullette-Gilman will revisit his text and rework it. It would make me quite proud if these previous two paragraphs are rendered moot. Because this is something that I feel should be digested by folks of all ages and creeds – and it would be fantastic if these folks would have no reason to find fault.

Plot - 9

Characters - 8

Voice - 7

Execution - 7

Personal Enjoyment – 10

Overall – 39/50 (3.9/5)

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Anonymous said...

Wonderfully said, Rob! I actually like your description of the story more than I do the actual book blurb! I really think I would enjoy reading it :)

Noah Mullette-Gillman said...

That is a very well written summary of the plot, and your comments about the story itself are indeed very generous and kind.

I do regret that you didn't enjoy the style more, but I certainly respect your opinion. I take some amount of solace in the fact that other reviewers have specifically said the opposite about some of these issues. Not every writer's voice is for everyone!

I sincerely thank you for your honest review.