Stuart Evers is terrific at sleight of hand; he is a mastermind, in fact. Throughout my entire read through of If This Is Home I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I was so smart. I believed that I knew the intricacies of each character from Evers’ exploration, I postulated that each plot path was going to be obvious and I presumed that the ending was a given. Was I ever wrong.
Evers’ first full length novel follows up his widely acclaimed Ten Stories about Smoking. While I wholly admired Evers’ writing, I wasn’t blown away by the realisation of the premise (though looking back, I was so wet behind the ears I don’t trust my old opinions!). Regardless, I was hungry for more of Stuart’s writing. This is a man with such talent for setting a scene and building a character, that I wanted to sink my teeth into a novel – something with more meat on its bones.
If This Is Home is a terribly difficult story to break down because of the way the plot points unfold. As the book opens we meet a man who lives under three names. To his friends in America he is Joe Novak, to the people who know him back home in England he is Mark Wilkinson and if you want to do business with him, you call him Mr Jones. Mark is, as the three names would suggest, a multifaceted character who features an incredible amount of depth. As the story progresses a layer of protection is dropped from Mark – we find out why he ran away from England and about his lost love.
The chapters alternate between present day and 1990. In the present we see Mark selling desires to wealthy businessmen but as he moves through life he is attacked by the memory of his past, why he left England and Bethany Wilder. In the past we watch as Mark and Bethany take the steps they need to in order to move to New York together. About halfway into the book, Evers drops a small bombshell which completely changes the face of the story. Suddenly the reader feels as out of place and confused as Mark. And when Mark ventures home in an attempt to make peace in his life the audience is dragged further into a world of unknowns.
What opens as a ponderous drama suddenly takes a turn for suspense. Now we don’t know where to look or what to think. Evers has played us like a stage magician; he’s redirected our gaze and our attention. If This Is Home transforms into something very different and sinister.
The words that spill from Evers’ mind are sublime. He has a talent for writing with impact so that each sentence moves you into new places and moments of shock feel like a punch in the gut. He flows smoothly from the melancholy, to the emotional, to the visceral and back again without breaking step or the readers pacing. My only slight annoyance is that Stuart is still rather obsessed by smoking; either that or I noticed more because of his short story collection. It seems that every other page someone is lighting up, tapping a pack of cigs or fumbling for a lighter. I’m splitting hairs here, though.
If This Is Home is a terrific book that will draw out a little laughter and repulse you, all within the 320 pages. The thing to remember is that this is Stuart’s debut novel, if he’s this good now what will we see in ten years? Personally I believe that we will discuss the name Stuart Evers a hell of a lot in the years to come.
Published by Picador. This book was kindly sent by the publisher for review.